A wellness program has the potential to be an excellent addition to any workplace culture. That’s because robust wellness programs have a strong impact in an employee’s life on the job and away from it. Are you aware of what a first-rate wellness program can include? Do you know how to maximize your wellness program and still remain compliant with employment law? Following are a few tips.

Research Proves Benefits of Workplace Wellness Programs

First, let’s look briefly at why a workplace wellness program is a good investment. Studies show that workplace wellness programs have a positive impact on workers’ health: These programs can be good at persuading employees to modify their health-related behaviors. This, consequently, has an effect on employees’ behavior at work—e.g., productivity, level of engagement, and more.

Frequently cited to this day is a 2010 study by Harvard University economists. Peer-reviewing more than 100 journal articles on employee wellness programs, it concludes “that a properly designed wellness program can expect to yield an ROI of 3.27:1 on health care cost reductions and another 2.73:1 on absence and related costs after about three years,” as reported by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). This underscores findings from a survey of Ceridian’s own employee wellness program, LifeWorks, which covers more than 18 million employees for companies of all sizes—more than 35 million, when including these employees’ family members: 62 percent of participants in LifeWorks report being more productive. We also know that 65 percent of them report missing less work, and 68 percent stay with an employer longer.

Maximizing, Complying

What can your business do to maximize its wellness culture and remain compliant?

Make Sure Your Wellness Program Goes Far Enough

Yes, it’s wise to walk before running, but employers can fail to go far enough with their employee wellness programs. When managed professionally, programs wide in scope can be highly effective. A robust wellness program will cover most, if not all, of the following:

  • Health risk assessments / screenings
  • Outreach and engagement services
  • Health coaching for tobacco cessation, plus weight and stress management
  • Online workshops and team-based challenges
  • Online trackers for exercise and nutrition
  • Assistance for employees who must care for their elders
  • Help with suicide prevention
  • Psychological counseling
  • Incentive programs to encourage participation in all the above

Everything on this list can have an impact on employee well-being, which translates to improvements in productivity and profitability.

Make Sure it Doesn’t Go Too Far

Wellness programs are regulated. The Affordable Care Act, for instance, contains related rules, explained in this fact sheet issued by the Department of Labor. These cover rewards or penalties under health-contingent wellness programs offered in connection with group health plans. They also “increase the maximum permissible reward or penalty to 50 percent of the cost of individual coverage premiums for wellness programs designed to prevent or reduce tobacco use,” SHRM reports. Breaking these rules can be costly.

Beyond compliance with the ACA, it’s generally good policy not to engage in coercion. Earlier this year, The Huffington Post reported on the story of a CVS employee who sued the company over its health-screening program. The plaintiff claimed that CVS threatened to charge her $600 yearly if she failed to provide personal information regarding her health and related activities. At the time of The Huffington Post‘s report, the suit was seeking class-action status. A class-action suit can be exponentially costly for the defendant—swiftly wiping out any monetary gains coming from a successful wellness program.

The Bottom Line

Wellness programs bring the promise of many benefits to your business, namely in the form of healthier, happier, more productive employees. These programs’ potential pitfalls, however, can run the risk of landing your company in a lawsuit or running afoul of complex employment regulations, such as the ACA. But there’s recourse that helps to make wellness programs extra sound, safe investments: To experience the best possible upside to an employee wellness program, and avoid its downside, consider outsourcing the activity to an organization well-versed in these efforts.