We have previously reported on the changes that the health care reform bill — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) — will have on your workplace. See “What Should Human Resources Be Doing to Prepare for Health Care Reform?” (http://tinyurl.com/36todbj) and “Benefits of Grandfather Status Likely to Be Short-Lived” (http://tinyurl.com/3yzbbsy).

In addition to those changes, the PPACA also provides for a grant program to assist smaller employers to provide workplace wellness programs. The Act stipulates that wellness programs can include initiatives such as health education, preventative screenings, counseling or programs to change unhealthy behaviors/lifestyle choices, and programs to encourage employee engagement/participation.

The PPACA provides that workplace wellness grants will be made available to employers who employ fewer than 100 employees working 25 hours or more per week and who did not have a workplace wellness program as of the date of PPACA's enactment (i.e., March 23, 2010). Approximately $200 million has been appropriated for the grant program, which is scheduled to begin in 2011.

A recent report released by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) advises that employer-provided wellness programs set up under the PPACA would be subject to compliance with anti-discrimination laws and would be considered a mandatory subject of bargaining in unionized workplaces. That is, employers should take steps to ensure that their wellness programs comply with acts such as Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which prevents discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin), ADEA, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), and ADA. For example, the CRS report advises that, if the wellness program collects genetic information, it must be voluntary, conditioned on written authorization, and must have strict privacy protections in order to comply with GINA. Additionally, the ADA would require that the wellness program be voluntary.

The Secretary of Health & Human Services is in the process of developing an application process, so stay tuned if you believe that your company may be eligible for these grants.