Posts Tagged ‘wellness program’

The 2012 Policies and Benefits Survey Reveals an Increase in Company Wellness Initiatives

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

In today’s video blog, CAI’s Director of HR Services, Molly Hegeman, shares several interesting findings from CAI’s 2012 Policies and Benefits Survey. More than 260 employers from across North Carolina participated in the survey conducted last year.

Molly reports that nearly 50 percent of the participating companies have wellness strategies in place at their workplace. Some of the common components employers are including in their wellness programs include: health risk assessments, flu shots, and diet and educational counseling.

Molly says the survey also revealed that NC employers are focusing on their work environments. To bring fun to the work atmosphere, companies are incorporating workout rooms and gyms, gaming stations and TVs, and lounge areas where employees can relax or collaborate with their coworkers.

In addition to the perks above, 40 percent of companies are providing their staff with activities outside of the workplace. Of those companies, 80 percent invite the family members of their employees to events like company picnics and sponsored events. Molly mentions in the video that activities that include an employee’s family help create a more welcoming work environment.

For more information on CAI’s Policy and Benefits Survey, please contact a survey team member at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

12 Activities to Keep Your Workforce Engaged through Fall

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Saturday is the first day of fall, and with the new season comes cooler weather, different foliage and a workforce that just wrapped up its summer. Keep your team members’ engagement high by incorporating fall fun into your workplace. There are many activities you can try at the office. Some are great for team building and others will show your employees that you appreciate their hard work.

Try these employee engagement activities with an autumn twist at your organization:

  1. Have team members bring in fall inspired dishes, such as apple pie or pumpkin soup, for a fall themed office party
  2. Stock the break room with warm apple cider or pumpkin flavored coffee for a morning treat
  3. Allow your staff members to leave work early to pick up their children from school once the academic year starts
  4. Organize an office activity day at a nearby park and play football with your workers and their families
      • Make participation optional
  5. Help employees stay fit during the season by planning a group hike at a local nature trail
      • Make participation optional
  6. Purchase group tickets to a local football game or other fall activity for you staff members to enjoy
  7. Treat your staff to a fall family day and schedule family-friendly activities like jumping in leaves or a cake walk
  8. Plan an office outing to a local apple orchard or pumpkin patch to bond while walking and picking autumn goods together
  9. Host a family hayride at a local park or farm
      • Include hay bale contests or a mini petting zoo
  10. Encourage fitness by arranging after work pick-up soccer games
      •  Make participation optional
  11. Throw a Halloween party and create a costume contest and a pumpkin decorating and carving contest
  12. Buy a turkey and hold an office potluck lunch for Thanksgiving
      • Ask your employees to each bring a dish

For more employee engagement tools and strategies, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: Michael Whyte

Employers, Don’t Be Overzealous with Your Wellness. Beware of the ADA and Everything Else.

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

The post below is a guest blog from Robin Shea who serves as Partner for Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP, CAI’s Partner for the 2011 Triad Employment Law Update.

Do you want a healthy workforce? Of course! But don’t overdo it. A too-aggressive wellness program may make your company sick in the long run.

Employers and their insurance companies love wellness programs. They result in reduced premiums as well as (presumably) fewer big-money claims because they encourage employees to take better care of themselves.

Many employers offer “carrots” to employees to participate in wellness programs. There is no legal problem with “positive” incentives as long as certain requirements are met.

But some employers wield a “stick” as well. They actually penalize employees who refuse to participate. The City of Chicago has recently announced a wellness program that will require employees to pay $50 a month to opt out. That’s a lot of money for most people. Can penalties like this cause problems for employers? The issue isn’t settled, but I have some concerns. 

1. The ADA. First, the Americans with Disabilities Act (even the “old” version) does not allow employers to ask for medical information from current employees unless the request is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” This usually means that there has to be a job-related problem that might be related to a medical condition, or perhaps a doctor’s note saying that the employee cannot perform his or her duties because of a medical condition. The employer generally cannot ask for medical information without a reason. Even when there is a good reason to ask, the medical inquiry must be confined to the work-related issue.

(For example, if an employee in a heavy-lifting position claims a bad back, the employer cannot require him to get a complete physical.)

The ADA does have an exception for medical information collected pursuant to a voluntary wellness program. But if the employer is hitting individual employees for as much as $50 a month if they decline to participate, how “voluntary” is that program?

At least two courts have found that “negative reinforcement,” such as Chicago’s, falls under a different exception in the ADA: the section that deals with “bona fide benefit plan[s] that are based on underwriting risks, classifying risks, or administering such risks that are based on or are not inconsistent with state law” and that are not a “subterfuge” to evade ADA compliance.

In one case, decided in 1998, the court upheld termination of an employee for insubordination who refused to provide medical information. In the other, decided this year, the court upheld a biweekly $20 deduction from pay for employees who chose not to participate in the wellness program. In other words, both of these courts found that the “voluntary wellness” exception wasn’t even an issue because wellness programs connected with health insurance plans fell within a completely different exception to the ADA’s prohibitions on medical inquiries.

With all due respect to these courts, I have a question: If every wellness program associated with a health insurance plan is automatically excluded from the ADA’s general prohibition on medical inquiries, then why does the ADA even have the “voluntary wellness” provision? Aren’t these courts effectively reading that provision right out of the ADA?

Another ADA concern I have is the fuzzy line (getting fuzzier every day) between lifestyle choices and actual or “regarded as” disabilities within the meaning of the ADA. If, say, someone who really likes food develops a weight problem, then she may become a “disabled” individual within the meaning of the ADA, and especially as amended by the ADA Amendments Act. It was reported this week that our friends at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against an employer for terminating a morbidly obese employee because of his obesity. The EEOC is contending that the employee’s obesity is a “disability” within the meaning of the ADA Amendments Act and that the company refused to consider reasonable accommodations, such as transfer to a job with lighter physical demands. (The company has thus far declined to comment, so all we have right now is the EEOC’s side of the story.)

Even alcoholism is a “disability” entitled to an intermediate level of ADA protection.

So there are some reasons I worry about employers who are too “enthusiastic” about promoting wellness. In any event, the ADA isn’t the only law that employers have to worry about.

2. “Lifestyle” or “lawful products” statutes. A number of states have so-called “lifestyle protection” or “lawful products” statutes, which essentially prohibit discrimination against applicants and employees based on lawful activities engaged in, or use of lawful products, during non-working hours. Even the narrower “lawful products” laws protect smokers as well as, presumably, drinkers, gourmands, skydivers (parachutes are “products,” aren’t they?), bungee-jumpers (bungee cords are “products,” aren’t they?), and other individuals who engage in risky but legal behavior. Yes, these laws usually contain exceptions, but employers need to be aware of their existence and make sure that what they’re doing fits into one of the exceptions.

There has been a lot of publicity lately about certain employers who have refused to hire anyone who smokes. One should assume that these employers are in states that do not have “lawful products” statutes. Don’t think that you can do it just because they did. If your friends all jumped in the lake, would you do it, too?

3. The GINA. Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prohibits employers from “using, acquiring, requiring, or disclosing genetic information” with certain strictly defined exceptions. It also prohibits discrimination against individuals based on their genetic information. The statute defines “genetic information” so broadly that any family medical history information about the individual’s first four degrees of kinship — plus spouses and adopted children — is included.

The GINA has some exceptions for genetic information disclosed in connection with voluntary wellness programs, but the GINA provisions focus on the right of the employee to decline to answer questions that seek “genetic information.” (In other words, the GINA regs say it is all right for a wellness program to request “genetic information” as long as individuals aren’t excluded from the program if they decline to answer questions asking for “genetic information,” the “genetic information” requests are segregated from other requests, clear disclaimers are provided, and other requirements are met.) If the wellness program is not truly “voluntary,” then arguably the GINA’s permissive provisions would not apply.

The moral of the story: don’t be overzealous with your wellness! Reasonable minds differ on this subject, but in light of the ADA(AA), state laws, and the GINA, I recommend that employers keep the focus “positive” and avoid punishing those who continue to burn the candle at both ends.

CAI’s 2011 Triad Employment Law Update, scheduled for November 9 at the Koury Center in Greensboro, will provide additional information on ADA and how to handle the off-duty conduct of employees.  The conference will also provide news and material on several legal topics relevant to employers, including Wage and Hour, Workers’ Comp Reform, FLSA and Immigration. Register today at www.capital.org/triadlaw.

Create a Healthier Workplace with a Company Wellness Program

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

GymEmployee-sponsored wellness programs provide organizations with many benefits. Designed to help employees maintain healthy lifestyle choices, wellness programs can strengthen staff morale, raise productivity and decrease health care related expenses for employers. To create a successful program, it is important to make sure the initiative’s focus is on helping employees get healthier rather than helping the organization save money—though both can occur.

An effective wellness program begins with involvement from a company’s leadership team. Like most business pursuits, employees are less skeptical to buy-in when senior managers and c-suite executives participate. There are multiple options to choose from when deciding to create a wellness program. Most are offered in partnership with an organization’s benefits provider, but agencies that specialize in developing and launching wellness programs are additional options for companies that want to create their own.

In addition to involving senior leadership, the start of a company wellness program should be communicated to all eligible employees through multiple channels, such as the company’s intranet and newsletter or a company-wide email.  Organizations should also set and publicize goals that they would like the program to accomplish. Progress throughout the duration of the wellness initiative should be measured as well.

With careful planning and execution, a wellness program can help organizations lower insurance costs, reduce absenteeism and help employees improve their overall physical and mental health. Here are a few suggestions for creating a healthier work culture at your company:

  1. Offer Financial Incentives: reward employees who opt into the wellness program by offering them benefits, such as lower insurance premiums and contributions to their flexible spending accounts.
  2. Survey Employees: to gauge the effectiveness of the wellness program, as well as track employee morale, organizations can gather updates from staff members via employee opinion surveys.
  3. Encourage Team Spirit: help employees get motivated to pursue healthier lifestyle choices by personalizing items that inspire exercise and good nutrition. For example, organizations can order water bottles and pedometers personalized with the company logo or names of staff members.
  4. Throw It Out: If your organization provides poor food options in vending machines, replace them with healthier choices, such as low-calorie or reduced-fat snacks.

For more information on creating a wellness program for your organization, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: Ben Sisto

Wellness Incentives – Trading in Carrots for Sticks?

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

The post below is a guest blog from Twyla Hutchins, RN, BSN, COHN-S, Medical Management Officer for CAI’s employee benefits partner Hill, Chesson & Woody.

In 2010, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimated that 59 percent of U.S. employers offered a wellness program, while 28 percent offered a monetary incentive for weight loss, smoking cessation or achievement of health goals, and 10 percent gave discounted insurance premiums to non-smoking employees as well as those that took a health risk assessment or joined a weight loss program.

According to a benefits consultant at Towers Watson, smoking cessation programs, having a high rate of success, can be a very effective wellness tactic for employers trying to gain control over their health care spending. Depending on the employee population, smoking can be a major cause of insurance rate increases. On the individual level, a smoker costs his or her employer $1,300 more per year than a nonsmoker.

There are many bold companies that have started trading in their wellness incentive tactics, or “carrots,” for sticks. Take Macy’s, for instance, who as of July 1, 2011 requires all employees who admit to tobacco use to pay a monthly $35 or yearly $420 surcharge for health coverage. Of course if those employees enroll in a free tobacco-cessation course, these fees will be waived and their progress reviewed in six months.

Think this is too bold?  Check out some of the other companies following suit:

  • PepsiCo – $600 per year surcharge for tobacco users
  • Gannett Publishing – $60 per month surcharge for tobacco users
  • Union Pacific – will not employ smokers
  • Scotts Miracle-Gro – will not employ smokers
  • Cleveland Clinic – will not employ smokers

While some find these tactics to be discriminatory against low-income, less-educated workers, many employers are feeling forced to give up their carrots for sticks in light of health care reform provisions. Seven years from now, companies with high health care spending will pay additional federal taxes. Essentially, these bold employers are trying to battle the root of the problem before they are adversly affected by the health care reform provisions.

So what is your take on this? How would a stick over a carrot impact your workforce? We’d love to hear from you!

How to Incorporate a Wellness Program Within Your Company

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

When high levels of unhealthy food intake meet the low levels of activity that result from a sedentary work life, it inevitably causes overweight individuals. The reality of overweight Americans is not an uncommon topic in the media, but it hasn’t been until recently that the conversation has reached the company boardroom.

As organizations evaluate annual spending and out-of-pocket expenses, there has been less conversation concerning employees who smoke and more dialogue directed at those who are overweight. Because of poor eating habits and lack of exercise among employees, employers have lost billions of dollars toward health care premiums and sick leave benefits, which could be significantly decreased by employing a healthier staff.

The monetary impact is obvious and the individual health risks are frightening, but both have been motivating factors in assisting employers to make a change. Through incorporating a companywide wellness program, organizations are recognizing physical and mental changes among staff, and anticipating long-term financial savings.

What are the greatest challenges your staff faces and how can you make strides for improvement? If by reflection, your company recognizes the output of annual finances could be lessened by employing healthier employees, it’s time to make a change. Determine the needs of those involved and construct a tailored and detailed wellness program with the following considerations in mind.

Promote exercise internally – If inactivity is your company’s main concern, find ways to provide exercise options throughout the workday. Offering group fitness workouts at the close of business or during the lunch hour makes exercising convenient and harder to ignore.

How often have you indulged in a heavy lunch and returned to the office feeling lethargic and unmotivated? By adjusting the afternoon workload to include exercise, you provide employees with extra energy and increased concentration because of the natural endorphins being released, making for a more productive staff.

Utilize outside sources – Developing a relationship with a personal trainer or local gym can work to the benefit of all involved. Because of the individualized environment, personal training sessions tend to motivate and hold individuals to their set commitments. If your company doesn’t have accessibility to personal trainers, connect with a nearby gym to allocate a monthly reimbursement, which not only coincides with your wellness program, but acts a job perk for new employees.

Supply healthy alternatives – Take a step back and evaluate the food exposure within the office. If the break room is stocked with soda and high calorie snacks, make an adjustment. When your employees reach for an afternoon snack, provide healthy choices. By exchanging soda for flavored water, and the candy jar with fruits or vegetables, you are removing temptation and making steps to a healthier lifestyle just a bit easier.

It would be hard to find anyone who doesn’t desire to be their healthiest self, but without the proper education, support group and motivation, many will never fully experience the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Those benefits aren’t a result of diets or short-term goals, but rather daily life alterations. With the proper program in place, your company can play an active role in improving lives and setting an example of healthy living for others to follow.

For additional information, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

HR Success – Krispy Kreme

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Besides being a place where you can get “Hot Doughnuts Now,” Krispy Kreme is home to an innovative health care program that earned them a 2010 CAI Ovation Award in the large employer category (companies with 500 or more team members).

The Winston-Salem firm started promoting a wellness program for its team members in 2004 as medical claims were climbing and negatively impacting their health insurance renewals. Five years later, Krispy Kreme elevated the program by adding biometrics (the science and technology of measuring and statistically analyzing biological data), a Health Risk Assessment and a requirement for team members to follow their individualized Action Plans.

The action plans in 2009 advised each participant what his or her personal actions should be within the next 3, 6, 9 and 12 months. These actions were determined based on the individual’s self reported behaviors and lifestyles on the Health Risk Assessment, as well as the actual scores from their biometric screening.

For example, one action plan might call for a team member to visit his or her personal physician for follow-up tests if their biometrics indicated a possible high risk. If someone was considered healthy and a low risk, their action plan may only be their annual physical and/or age appropriate screenings within 12 months.

Team members can complete the risk assessments on their work time, and they may participate in a Health Coach call during work hours. This is because Krispy Kreme does not want any barriers to participation in their wellness program, or any excuses not to take part in it either.

Those who completed the requirements received what Krispy Kreme described as a very attractive monthly wellness credit. More importantly, the company felt strongly it was able to avoid possible high dollar medical claims through an early detection of conditions in several team members with this revised program.

Roughly 33 percent of Krispy Kreme’s covered team members participated in the program in 2009. As a result, their health insurance renewal rose only 0.8 percent last year, versus the national average of 18 percent.

The Health Risk Assessment for 2009 was paper only. With a wellness vendor change in 2010, Krispy Kreme offered its team members the convenience of online and telephonic risk assessments as well. When the company performed the health screenings again this year, they found significant aggregate improvement on most all of the tests.

The willingness of Krispy Kreme to pursue more options for its health plan for team members, as well as make it as accessible as possible for all to participate, shows its commitment and dedication to making what was already a successful endeavor better for everyone involved. Their Happy and Healthy Wellness program is a model that other companies should consider emulating if they are serious about wanting team members on the job in the best physical condition while at the same time saving money on health care costs.

Photo Source: Wikimedia – Creative Commons

CAI recognizes North Carolina companies for innovative HR/People solutions with Ovation Awards during its annual HR Management Conference in February.  If you’d like to be considered please send a 2-3 paragraph description of your program to doug.blizzard@capital.org.  The description should summarize the business need, describe how the solution was implemented, and highlight the measurable and/or forecasted business results.