Saturday, May 30, 2009


wellness, program, compliance,
Is Your Wellness Program in Compliance?

With wellness programs increasing in popularity in the workforce, it is important that employers ensure their programs are in compliance with federal regulations. There are multiple laws impacting wellness programs, depending on the type of plan you implement (e.g. voluntary or mandatory; participation-based or goal-based incentives). Appropriate incentives for wellness programs can include:

• Reimbursement for the cost of a gym membership
• Rewards for attending a monthly health education seminar
• Cash incentives for participating in a cholesterol or blood screening
• Reimbursement for weight loss or smoking cessation programs

Make sure your plan is non-discriminatory. In particular, goal-based plans have several requirements for compliance, including providing eligible employees with an opportunity to qualify for incentives at least annually, and offering an alternative to employees whose circumstances would make participation difficult. Wellness programs encourage your workforce to stay healthy, which ultimately will keep your healthcare costs down. It is advisable, however, to work with legal counsel when designing a wellness program due to the compliance requirements and the variations in program design.

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Keeping Employees Happy
While Tightening the Benefits Budget

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Within any business, the Human Resources (HR) department faces unique challenges during trying economic times. The benefits budget may be cut in order to help overall company finances leaving HR tasked to motivate employees who feel the squeeze of any cuts.

What can an HR department do when faced with such a challenge? Consider the following ideas for containing benefits costs and easing the additional financial burdens today’s employees face.

• Offer qualified transportation benefits. Commuting costs are becoming more burdensome for many employees. You can offer qualified transportation benefits at little cost to your company through a reimbursement arrangement funded with employee pre-tax dollars. Qualified transportation benefits can include transit passes, qualified parking, and rides to and from work in a commuter highway vehicle (also known as vanpooling). This type of arrangement can save employees money on federal, Social Security, and (in most cases) state taxes, making it less expensive for them to commute to work.

• Consider implementing flexible work schedules, if this is an option for your type of business. For example, consider four 10-hour work days per week. This saves the business on energy costs and employees on transportation costs. Plus, many employees will appreciate the additional free day, whether it gives them a three-day weekend or a day during the week for running errands or relaxing.

• Add voluntary benefits to your benefits package, or expand the voluntary benefits choices you currently offer. Voluntary benefits are paid in full by the employees who choose to enroll. They offer advantages to employees over purchasing these benefits in the open market: Employees typically enjoy some savings and convenience, since they are purchasing the benefits at a group rate and paying for them via payroll deduction.

• Coverage summary for employees. Surprisingly, many employees don’t realize the extent to which their employers are paying for these benefits; they only know their own out-of-pocket costs. A brief, to the point “Capsule of Your Benefits” can summarize coverage for employees, and include the price tag being shouldered by the employer.