Tag Archives: wellness programs


How to build a healthy workforce

Are employers who eliminate junk food from the break room, offer classes on how to quit smoking, and dispense free flu shots doing enough to combat rising insurance premiums and increasing employee medical claims?  Maybe not, according to a 2012 American Heart Association report, which reflects that if current obesity trends continue, obesity-related healthcare costs could reach over $861 billion by 2030.  Health care costs neared 2.6 trillion in 2010 and the average annual insurance premiums for employer-sponsored coverage were a staggering $5,429 for single coverage and $15,073 for family coverage in 2011, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study.

These rising healthcare costs have many employers exploring “wellness programs,” which are work-sponsored programs that assist and support employees in establishing healthier lifestyles.  Although they vary from company to company, wellness programs can include weight loss counseling, physical fitness contests, cholesterol and blood pressure screenings, advice on nutrition and healthful eating, subsidized fitness programs and discounts on gym memberships; some even provide incentive-based rewards to employees who participate.  Many also include health-risk assessments, which usually take the form of a questionnaire and are designed to identify health risks and “at risk” individuals and provide suggestions on preventive treatments and other health management tools.

A number of companies credit these programs with decreasing rates of illness and injuries, reducing tardiness and absenteeism, increasing productivity, lowering health care costs and insurance claims, and even enhancing morale and camaraderie among employees.  According to the CDC, 56 published studies report that workplace health initiatives have helped employers save up to 25 percent on overall healthcare costs, absenteeism, workers’ compensation, and disability claims.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the new Patient Protection and Affordability Care Act (PPACA) encourages employers to provide wellness programs.  The Act even provides grants for employers who implement and promote wellness programs.  But, in order to take advantage of these benefits, business owners need to make sure their wellness programs do not put them at legal risk.

The following tips may help your company implement a wellness program without violating federal employment laws:

1. Make the program voluntary to avoid running afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and specifically precludes employers from asking questions about an employee’s medical condition or disability.  As a result, employers should make health-risk assessments voluntary and keep medical information confidential and separate from an employee’s personnel file.  According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a program is considered voluntary so long as the employer does not require employee participation and does not penalize employees who choose not to participate.

2. Have your employees execute authorizations in order to comply with Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).
Another area of risk for employers offering wellness programs is GINA, which prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s genetics and specifically precludes employers from requesting, requiring, or purchasing genetic information about their employees or their employees’ family members.  Health risk assessment questionnaires, however, often include questions about medical history and family medical history because these questions can be helpful in identifying at-risk individuals and in providing preventive treatment ideas.  In order to prevent your health risk assessment from violating GINA, employees must volunteer the information and execute a written authorization reflecting his or her knowing and voluntary participation in the program.  There must also be strict privacy protections in place to ensure that employers neither disseminate nor use any genetic information obtained by virtue of the wellness program.

3. Don’t make rewards contingent on satisfying certain health metrics.
In addition, employers should also be mindful of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), which prohibits group health plans from discriminating or using health factors to determine eligibility for insurance enrollment or to determine insurance premiums.  HIPPA also prohibits discrimination within a wellness program itself.  An employer would be at risk of violating HIPPA by offering, for example, a financial reward to employees who achieve a certain “body mass index” (BMI).  This sort of requirement may not be achievable by all employees due to medical conditions or disabilities.  On the other hand, a wellness program will comply with HIPPA so long as rewards are not contingent on employees satisfying a specific goal or standard.  And employers will not violate HIPPA by offering financial incentives–like lower insurance deductibles or co-payments for employees who participate in the wellness or disease prevention programs–so long as the reward is not based on a specific health outcome and all employees have the opportunity to participate if they so choose.

While wellness programs can pay off for both employers and employees, business owners need to carefully craft their initiatives.  Consulting an expert who understands evolving federal laws can help employers avoid potential discrimination and legal challenges.
This article is for information only and is not legal advice. Emily Cates is a litigation partner in Lewis and Roca’s Phoenix office. Caryn Tijsseling is a litigation partner in Lewis and Roca’s Reno office.

employee perks are often the first thing to go. - AZ Business Magazine Jul/Aug 2010

Employees And Employers Are Reaping The Benefits Of Low-Cost Health And Wellness Perks

We’re in a time when it seems the only job benefit that matters is actually having a job. As employers look for ways to cut costs, employee perks are often the first thing to go. As a result, stress increases and morale declines.

However, many local employers are taking advantage of low or no-cost simple wellness programs and finding that they go a long way toward creating a positive culture within their companies. Allowing employees time during their day to escape and rejuvenate leads to a higher level of productivity, a less-stressed work force and improved overall morale in the workplace.

In a time when many people are now wearing more hats than ever — and putting in extra hours — wellness programs offer a very high return on investment. A healthier staff means fewer sick days, lower health insurance costs and increased productivity.

At Shea Homes, on-site yoga is just one of the many low-cost ways the company uses to engage employees and encourage healthy behaviors. Mike McCormack, vice president of human resources for Shea Homes Active Lifestyles Communities, says some of the other programs the company offers include lunch-and-learn sessions, companywide 10,000-step contests, wellness teleseminars and holiday potlucks.

“It’s no secret that our industry has been particularly affected by the economy,” he says. “The little things we’re still able to offer have gone a long way in helping our employees feel appreciated. The positive feedback has been overwhelming and attendance has remained strong among both women and men. We see our wellness programs as having a lasting benefit at Shea Homes.”

At Henkel’s headquarters for Consumer Goods in Scottsdale, employee health and wellness seems to be engineered into the building. A roof garden provides employees a getaway from their work area where they can take in some fresh air, eat lunch, visit with co-workers, or even work. The building also features an on-site fitness center. The yoga room at the Henkel facility is the former IT training room, a conversion made by CEO Brad Casper in response to greater demand for the classes. Henkel also offers weekly hip-hop dance fitness classes and on-site chair massages, both of which are a big hit among the employees.

“The wellness classes also provide a way for people to interact and foster friendships with colleagues that they may have not otherwise connected with and in a different way,” says Natalie Violi, director of corporate communications at Henkel. “We are seeing people in different functions and varied levels of the organization take the classes.”

Nicole Nelson, human resources recruiting manager at Henkel, says, “Henkel fully embraces employee wellness programs as they provide ongoing benefits from an employee and employer standpoint. These programs continue to strengthen employee morale and help bring balance to everyday work-life.”

Now more than ever, employees are thankful for the little things their employers are doing to keep them motivated and offer an outlet for stress. It’s a win-win for everyone. A healthier, happier staff equals a healthier, happier organization.

Arizona Business Magazine Jul/Aug 2010

AHA Profile: Peter Harper

Peter Harper
Vice President and Treasurer
Scottsdale Insurance Co.

As the American Heart Association’s board of directors chairman, Peter Harper brings nearly 25 years of finance leadership experience to the role of vice president and treasurer of Scottsdale Insurance Co.

Scottsdale Insurance is one of the largest excess and surplus, and specialty lines carriers in the nation, with more than 1,400 employees and annual premiums in excess of $2 billion.

Prior to his current role, Harper served as treasurer and chief financial officer of Suntron Corporation. Additionally, he has held senior leadership positions with Iomega Corporation and General Electric.

Harper uses his leadership skills to rally employees at Scottsdale Insurance when it comes to workplace wellness, and understands the benefits associated with a healthy work force.

“Heart disease costs U.S. businesses $24 billion a year in lost productivity. Through wellness programs, companies are able to attract exceptional employees, while enhancing productivity and morale at the same time,” Harper says.

In addition, recent studies have shown that for every dollar spent on health and wellness, companies can save between $3 and $15. Harper says those savings are almost immediately seen within 12 to 18 months of implementing a program.

Harper also spearheads efforts to get employees involved with the American Heart Association’s Start! Heart Walk each year. Scottsdale Insurance has sponsored the Lifestyle Change Award for the past three years.

“I am passionate about physical fitness and living a healthy lifestyle, which aligns with our Lifestyle Change Award sponsorship,” he says. “If we take the initiative to proactively reduce our risk of heart disease — including establishing a physical fitness regimen and adopting a healthier diet — not only will we improve the odds of not incurring life-threatening heart attacks or strokes, but we will be able to enjoy a happier, longer life with our family and friends who care most about us.”



Arizona Business Magazine

January 2010

healthcare onsite for large employers

Healthcare Solutions Center Provides Onsite Health Care To Large Employers

Time and money are two things few people can afford to waste, especially these days. In an effort to save both, people often put their own health concerns on the backburner. After all, who wants to take time away from work or family to go to the doctor, wait around to actually see the doctor, and then get a diagnosis and a prescription that has to be filled for a hefty fee (not to mention the cost of the visit)?

But Frances Ducar is changing the way health care is handled in the workplace and making it much more convenient for people to confront their health concerns. As founder and director of Healthcare Solutions Center, she strives to save Arizona employers and their employees money. And she’s saving lives along the way.

Ducar spent more than 20 years in the health care industry in various positions, including first assistant to some of the country’s top surgeons and as a family nurse practitioner.

“I’ve worked with some really amazing specialists, and a little piece of each of them is what makes me who I am today,” she says of her mentors.

In her experiences over the years, she saw how companies were being “eaten alive” by insurance companies. She knew she wanted to find a way to help employers offer their employees quality health care and help employees afford the health care they deserve. With that, Healthcare Solutions Center was born in 2003.

Healthcare Solutions Center offers large companies (with 500 employees or more) an onsite health care clinic staffed by a family nurse practitioner. With HCS onsite clinics, employers save money on their overall health care costs. Employees save money because HCS eliminates co-pays and deductibles and reduces prescription costs to as little as $4. Employees also receive confidential and top-notch care from a nurse practitioner. In addition, HCS has a relationship with a network of some of the state’s finest specialists. If a patient needs further examination beyond what the nurse practitioner can provide, HCS can arrange a timely appointment with a specialist — sometimes even the same day.

“A company is only as healthy as its employees,” says Ducar, adding that people are much more likely to visit an onsite clinic because it eliminates the need to take time off work to travel offsite to a doctor’s office.

Employees don’t just see the nurse practitioner if they are sick. HCS onsite clinics also offer wellness programs to help patients quit smoking and lose weight.

“Knowing you are helping everyone you see in one way or another, seeing a person change their lifestyle, and seeing companies save money and put it back into their wellness plans — these are just a few of the immense rewards of this business,” Ducar says.

She feels good knowing that employers are saving millions on their health care costs and that HCS is helping employees appropriately utilize every avenue and benefit of the company’s wellness plan, including counseling and beyond.

But there are challenges as well. Ducar personally selects her family nurse practitioners, and she admits that placing the right nurse practitioner with the right company is one of the hardest and most important, parts of her business.

“My nurse practitioners are a reflection of me,” she says. “They become the advocate for their patients who just don’t know where to go.”

Ducar must have a knack for placing her nurse practitioners because she says she’s never had a dissatisfied patient.

“The patients trust (the nurse practitioners), and they are all happy to have us there,” she says.

The entrepreneur predicts huge growth for the future of her company, but she says her business will remain in the state for the long haul.

“Love of medicine and the desire to help Arizona companies afford their health care is what drove me to start this company,” Ducar explains.

hand sanitizer helps stay healthy at work

Staying Healthy At Work

Stress is present in almost everyone’s lives today, particularly with the cloud of an unstable economy hanging over the country. Not surprisingly, work is one of the top things that cause people stress.

The problem doesn’t end there. Stress can affect more than our mindset and our mood — it can affect our health. The Wellness Council of America reports that 70 percent of workers say job stress causes frequent health problems. The good news is there are many fun ways employers can help their employees beat stress at work and stay healthy.

“Stress can manifest itself in many ways including obsessive (behavior), excessive worrying, making simple mistakes — such as forgetting to write a check in the register — appetite loss, muscle tension, upset stomach and headaches,” says Dr. Paul Berkowitz, a psychiatrist at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa.

He adds that stress can also weaken the immune system, putting people at a higher risk for catching the common cold.

Dr. Bob Orford, who specializes in preventive, occupational and aerospace medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, adds that stress can also result in depression, high-blood pressure, sleep deprivation, hypertension and even obesity, because people often eat as a way to relieve stress.

Orford offers many ways employers can help their employees fend off stress and increase productivity in the workplace.

“They should allow several mini-breaks for their employees throughout the day — two or three times an hour — to stand up, stretch or simply walk around,” he says. “Productivity can be increased (as a result of) those mini-breaks. “Exercise is the single best way to relieve stress,” he adds.

Orford suggests that anything an employer can do to encourage employees to exercise can help them reduce their stress.

“They can offer incentives such as a contribution for a health club, which Mayo Clinic does, or distributing pedometers and giving a bonus or discount on a health care premium if they walk a certain number of steps,” he says.

Berkowitz adds that companies should also help their employees balance work and life — thus helping relieve their stress — by working with them in areas such as shift scheduling, if at all possible. He suggests employers can offer the option to come in early or work later hours, depending on the employee’s preference. He also suggests perks such as bringing in a corporate massage therapist or encouraging employees to take a yoga class.

In fact, massages can have overwhelmingly positive results in the workplace. In a study performed by the Touch Research Institute in Miami, massaged subjects showed decreased frontal EEG alpha and beta waves and increased delta activity consistent with enhanced alertness; math problems were completed in significantly less time with significantly fewer errors after the massage; and anxiety, cortisol (the stress hormone) and job-stress levels were lower at the end of a five-week period.

“As more and more is expected of workers during these difficult times, maintaining good health is essential in the workplace. Even the smallest employee incentives make a big difference,” says Tiffany Richards, founder of The Back Rub Company in Phoenix. “These affordable programs — like a 15-minute chair massage — are some of the only things that employees look forward to, especially when everyone is over-stressed and worried.”

The Back Rub Company offers on-site wellness services, including chair massages, fitness classes, “lunch and learn” wellness workshops, guided meditation, hypnotherapy sessions and even healthy cooking classes.

Massage Makers offers corporate chair massages and on-site table massages, as well as the unique Body Mechanics program, which addresses repeated physical problems people suffer as a result of how they sit or stand continually at work. Owner Andrea “Andy” Sobczak believes that massages benefit employees by helping relax their muscles and get blood flowing, and also by providing a mental booster.

“It shows employees that (employers) are invested in them, and it gives employees a sense of value,” she says.

Sobczak adds that the human touch also makes people feel like they are important.“People are deprived of human touch … they need to feel special and taken care of,” she says. “It makes people feel good.”

Yoga is another positive stress reliever that employers can offer their employees. Danielle Price Catalfio started StudiYo of Scottsdale after working in Corporate America and realizing how stressful it can be, particularly in a down economy. She created the T.E.A.M. Yoga workshops, which stands for “the ego aware manager,” to help people “take the ego out of the workplace and see each other outside of their titles as human beings not humans doing.”

Catalfio’s two- to three-hour workshops include three main elements: a series of yoga techniques such as breathing and stretching to help people relax; the physical aspect, which helps people let go of thoughts and simply concentrate on holding yoga poses; and workplace stretches that can be done during mini-breaks. She also incorporates relational activities into the workshop that help build trust and camaraderie among co-workers.

Workplace wellness programs don’t just benefit employees. Statistics show these types of incentives actually have an economic return for employers. A report by the U.S. Surgeon General on Physical Activity and Health states that corporate wellness programs return $1.95 to $3.75 per employee, per dollar spent, and have a cumulative economic benefit of $500 to $700 per worker, per year. In addition, the American Journal of Health Promotions reports that for every $1 spent on wellness, employers can get up to $10 back through fewer medical claims, reduced absenteeism, improved productivity and other factors. Berkowitz says employers should look at workplace wellness incentives “as an investment to offset potential losses.”