#Nextchat: Does Workplace Wellness Need a Checkup?


Over the past five years, workplace wellness programs have spiked in popularity and have become a popular way for employers to curb rising health care costs, while helping workers live healthier lives and be more productive.

The multiple benefits of wellness programs can include promoting superior corporate performance and increasing employee engagement, advocates say. Some critics, however, challenge those claims.

Others argue that worksite health screenings can aim to do too much and should stick to the basics. And research by the Rand Corporation has indicated that the real savings from wellness programs comes from efforts that focus on helping those with chronic diseases to manage their conditions.

The Bloomberg article Employee Wellness Programs Not So Voluntary Anymore states that “Wellness programs were one of the most popular ‘benefits’ last year, with three-quarters of organizations surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management offering some sort of program.”

With the increased pressure to reduce health care costs, some employers are now requiring wellness program health screenings. However, the screenings have produced some unhealthy anxiety, as workers grow increasingly concerned about their privacy, and employers question whether their wellness program is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal statutes.

Over the past few years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has challenged the legality of several wellness programs, claiming that “the voluntariness of [these] companies' wellness programs raise questions regarding the legality of mandatory programs, along with the penalties within these programs.”

Most recently, as reported by SHRM editor Stephen Miller, CEBS, in his article Court: Employers Can Require Health Screenings for Insurance, “A federal district judge has ruled against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and held that an employer can require workers to undergo health screenings as a condition for receiving employer-provided health coverage.”

In the SHRM Online article EEOC Readies Wellness Incentives Rule; Congress Responds, employment attorney Leslie E. Silverman says that employers should guarantee employee confidentiality by:

  • Never having access to individual employee medical information, including health risk assessment and biometric/diagnostic test results.
  • Communicating with employees, explaining the types of information they do receive and making it clear that they never have access to individually identifiable information.

Best practices are key to success. The SHRM Online article Five Best Practices for Workplace Wellness quotes a report from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Transamerica Center for Health Studies, From Evidence to Practice: Workplace Wellness that Works, that “Wellness programs are most effective when they are clearly tailored to the goals and needs of specific populations and provide sufficient opportunities for employee engagement and input.”

Please join @shrmnextchat at 3 p.m. ET on January 27 for #Nextchat with special guest SHRM managing online editor, compensation and benefits, Stephen Miller, CEBS (@shrmsmiller). We’ll chat about creating workplace wellness programs that work for employees and employers.


Q1. What are the pros and cons of employer-sponsored wellness programs?

Q2. Should employers deny health care coverage to workers who refuse to submit to health screenings? Why/Why not?

Q3. What are the privacy implications with employee health screenings for workplace wellness programs?

Q4. How can employers encourage the greatest participation in wellness programs?

Q5. What can employers do to help those employees who lack primary care physicians? 

Q6. Do wellness programs aimed at all employees (the fit and the unfit) reduce health costs or have other positive results? 

Q7. Should employers put greater emphasis on helping those with chronic diseases to better manage their conditions?

Q8. What tips and advice do you have for HR professionals when creating or expanding a workplace wellness program?


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