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Wellness programs can promote employee engagement, retention and productivity

Voluntary wellness programs may be increasing employee retention and productivity.

Experts are speaking out on the positive impact employee wellness programs can have on an organization's growth, productivity and retention rates. 

A survey from health care technology company HealthMine Inc. found that 62 percent of the 750 wellness plan participants surveyed felt their programs were helping to lower their medical costs. Additionally, 38 percent felt wellness programs led to a reduction in the number of sick days they took, and 33 percent said their wellness program helped them be more productive.

"Healthier populations carry less risk, have fewer claims and lower premiums," Bryce Williams, CEO and President of HealthMine, said in a statement. "So, it's true that wellness programs have the potential to improve health and lower costs for the entire population, one person at a time. The benefits of successful wellness programs are cumulative."

Using wellness programs for positive growth
As Bloomberg BNA reported, human resources professionals speaking at the WorldatWork Total Rewards conference in San Diego said wellness programs can do more than reduce health care costs. A well-designed wellness program can also be used to engage employees and encourage productivity and growth. Experts speaking at the conference noted many businesses are tracking multiple metrics to see how wellness programs positively influence the company's growth. Factors that can be affected by wellness programs include employee engagement, turnover, absenteeism, productivity and recruitment/referral rates.

"Businesses are tracking multiple metrics to see how wellness programs positively influence the company's growth."

"At the end of the day, good health is good business," Lauren Benz, a clinical account manager at MVP Health Care, said at the conference. "We're now in a huge global market, so for you to remain competitive you need to have a healthy workforce because a healthy workforce will outperform an unhealthy workforce time and time again."

A second panelist, Dan Harding, director of employee relations at MVP Health Care, noted that when designing an employee wellness program, human resources professionals should be sure the branding of the program aligns with that of the company. Participation in a wellness program will likely be higher if the program's values and mission echo those of the business, which will likely resonate with its employees.

Harding further noted that while employers will want to see a return on investment for their wellness programs, it's important to track more than reduced health care costs when determining the program's ROI. Wellness programs that focus on employee engagement and well-being tend to have higher ROI than those simply looking at health cost reduction, Harding asserted.

When structuring wellness programs, risk managers should also ensure the program is in compliance with health privacy regulations outlined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Obama administration recently issued rules defining how Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act apply to wellness programs offered by employers that request health information from employees and their spouses. These guidelines include regulations for data encryption and breach notification, as well as restrictions on wellness screen programs. The new EEOC wellness plan rules take effect on Jan. 1. 2017, and risk managers can review the full regulations through the Federal Register.

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OSHA ruling may mean changes for injury reporting

New OSHA regulations require employers to establish protections for employees reporting work-related injuries.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued its final ruling on modernizing injury data collection in workplaces, requiring employers to meet electronic recordkeeping guidelines for reporting workplace injuries and illnesses and making such records publicly available.

Under the new rule, employers in high-hazard industries will be required to send injury and illness data to OSHA to be posted on the agency's website.

"The final rule prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for reporting injuries or illnesses."

"Our new reporting requirements will 'nudge' employers to prevent worker injuries and illnesses to demonstrate to investors, job seekers, customers and the public that they operate safe and well-managed facilities,"  Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, said in a statement. "Access to injury data will also help OSHA better target our compliance assistance and enforcement resources at establishments where workers are at greatest risk, and enable 'big data' researchers to apply their skills to making workplaces safer."

As Business Insurance reported, this rule affects organizations with 250 or more employees in industries covered by OSHA's existing recordkeeping regulation – meaning those who submit 300, 300A and 301 forms each year. Additionally, the rule includes businesses with 20 to 249 employees in high-risk industries, such as agriculture, forestry, construction and manufacturing.

Information for 2016 must be submitted by July 1, 2017. Information for 2017 must be submitted by July 1, 2018. Beginning in 2019, data will need to be submitted by March 2 each year.

Internal changes
OSHA's new regulation requires employers to implement an employee injury and illness reporting system that meets specific criteria. This includes the following:

  • Creating a way for employees to promptly and accurately report work-related injuries and illnesses
  • Anti-retaliation protections so that employees do not feel discouraged or deterred from reporting injuries or illnesses
  • Informing employees of their right to report work-related injuries and illnesses

The final rule also explicitly prohibits any employers from discharging, punishing or discriminating against employees for reporting injuries or illnesses.

By August 12 of this year, employers will be required to have formal programs in place for informing employees of their right to report injuries and illness in a way that does not discharge or discriminate against employees for reporting.

According to Lexology, risk managers may wish to review these policies before implementation. Certain aspects, including safety incentive programs and post-accident drug testing, could be considered discriminatory actions under the new OSHA ruling.

If drug testing, or the threat of drug testing, is only administered to employees who report injuries or illnesses, it would be considered an action that discourages reporting. Employers are advised to limit post-incident testing to instances in which drug use was likely to have contributed to the accident and can be accurately identified.

Incentive programs, such as those where employees can win a prize if they are not injured over a set time, may also be considered detrimental if they encourage the under-recording of injuries and illnesses. Using incentive programs to impair accurate recordkeeping is also prohibited under the OSHA rule.