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Creating an Effective Wellness Program

Employer-sponsored wellness benefits are a great way to promote employee health and organizational objectives. Currently, employee interest in workplace wellness programs is growing. The top three reasons cited by U.S. workers are to improve their overall health, reduce their health care costs, and increase their chances of living a longer and healthier life.

Types of Wellness Programs

Wellness programs should be ongoing and should encourage employee participation.

  • In-Office Wellness Programs: Vaccinations, weight loss, stress reduction (e.g. yoga or spa events)

  • Out-of-Office Wellness Programs: Exercise programs, walking for causes, outdoor activities

Employers should also consider health and wellness incentives in the form of gift cards, cash in the form of a bonus applied to the paycheck, cash applied to gym membership, or making additional contributions to health savings accounts.

Making Programs Inclusive

In order to avoid legal and compliance issues, it is important to keep the following federal laws in consideration when creating a wellness program:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which strictly limits when an employer may obtain medical information from applicants and employees.

  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), a law that protects individuals from discrimination based on their genetic information.

  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prevents the denial of eligibility for increased cost for coverage because of any health factor, such as health status; medical conditions, physical and mental illnesses; health care claims experience; receipt of health care; medical history; genetic information; evidence of insurability; and disability.

  • Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), which contains several provisions that relate to workplace wellness programs, including preventive services at no cost to the employee (no deductible), increased wellness program incentives, and government funding of workplace wellness initiatives.


To create a culture where health is valued, employers should use different avenues of communicating their wellness program such as emails, visual advertisements, as well as verbal communication and endorsement by management.


Many companies provide discounts to non-profit organizations and HIPAA wellness regulations permit wellness incentives of up to 20 percent of the total premium, if the program meets certain conditions. Employers should consult with their HR and finance team when planning their budget for wellness programs.


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