Recently, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) released the results of its annual benefits survey. The survey asked SHRM members to indicate whether their company currently offered a particular employee benefit and, if not, whether their company intended to offer the benefit in the next year.

Interestingly, the survey found that only five to six percent of all employers surveyed planned to implement some type of wellness/preventative care program in the next year. The wellness/preventative care benefits planned for implementation include: (1) wellness programs that provide resources and information, (2) smoking cessation programs, (3) health care premium discounts for not smoking, (4) weight loss programs, and (5) health screening (blood pressure, cholesterol) programs. These programs are designed to detect and possibly prevent catastrophic claims resulting in a better quality of life for the employee and hopefully a corresponding reduction in employers’ claims costs.

A wide range of wellness programs exist to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent disease. Some employers provide access to health screening services (hearing, vision, smoking, cholesterol and heart) at the workplace during lunch or scheduled breaks. Other employers, wanting to encourage healthy behavior, may provide financial incentives for meeting a particular goal or standard.

According to Frank Del Barto, a member of the Firm’s Employment and Labor Group, employers that are considering offering financial incentives must ensure that the plan meets the HIPAA nondiscrimination requirements for a “bona fide wellness program.” Frank notes that a “bona fide wellness program” must (1) limit the financial incentive, (2) be reasonably designed to promote good health or prevent disease, (3) ensure that the reward is available to all similarly situated individuals, and (4) ensure that the plan materials describing the terms of the plan disclose the availability of reasonable alternative standards. According to Frank, although implementing a wellness program may not provide an immediate return on an employer’s investment, the continued focus on prevention and early detection should have a positive impact on employee absenteeism and productivity.