A new study calls into question the notion that workplace wellness programs save an employer money. In a study tracking hospital employees for two years, although hospitalization for employees and family members dropped by over 40% for six major health conditions, increased outpatient costs erased those savings. The study found in the journal Health Affairs and its results help to address a debate taking place in companies around the country about how much incentive and pressure an employer can put on workers to increase healthy lifestyles by quitting smoking, losing weight, and exercising.
The flip side of the argument is that this intrusion into personal health becomes a meddlesome slippery slope and perhaps health discrimination. Many companies have wellness programs and even include gym memberships and on-premise exercise, attempting to changing employees’ bad habits. Some employers link these programs to insurance discounts or penalties.
In Wisconsin worker’s comp, an injury that takes place because of participation in a wellness program is only compensated if the program is mandatory or compensated. The additional concern for employees is that unhealthy lifestyle choices could result in potential employer’s defense to an occupational injury or exposure (obesity, smoking, diabetes) as pre-existing conditions used to deny worker’s compensation claims.