Impact of office wellness or health program on Workers compensation

Improving the wellness and health of your employees can come at a cost in the short term and the long term, however we think it is better to spend the cost in the short term and save in the long term.

Employee wellness programs used to mean gyms or fitness centers in the building or office.  However, now it has taken on a whole new meaning.  Office gyms, office step counter competitions (using Fitbit or Jawbones), office weight loss competitions, in-office yoga and massage, and corporate sports teams (softball, basketball, etc.).  Companies want to engage their employees and provide incentives for remaining healthy.  Happier employees call out sick less, file less workers compensation claims, and are more productive.

Experts say that these activities are a good way to increase activity levels of sedentary employees and encourage health behavior.

The costs of some of these employee wellness programs can be in the hundreds of dollars per employee to thousands if state of the art and small workforce.  The savings for a company can be much greater, health care costs and workers compensation costs can decrease over time with a healthier active workforce.  The impact of technology enhancements on health care over time will be seen in the data of wearable technology.

Impact on Workers Compensation coverage

In general, employees are entitled to workers compensation benefits when an injury or illness arises out of and is in the course and scope of employment.   However, voluntary activities in an off duty athletic activity have typically not been covered.

According to Jackson Lewis,

“some states, such as New York, provide exceptions, as where the employer requires employees to participate in such activity, compensates employees for participating in such activity, or otherwise sponsors the activity. In New York, establishing that the employer sponsors the activity requires the showing of ‘an affirmative act or overt encouragement by the employer to participate.’ Matter of Huff v. Department of Corr., 52 AD3d 1003, 1004 (2008); see Matter of Booth v New York State Dep’t. of Corr., 58 AD3d 1027, 1028 (2009).”

This example shows that some exercise and recreational activities may be covered under workers compensation.  The good news is you are protected via your statutory insurance – the bad news it may cost you in the form of WC claims or premiums.

It’s important for corporate executives or owners to weigh the overall risk to the enterprise before dismissing corporate wellness programs, we believe the health care savings, productivity benefits, and engagement of employees will outweigh the expenses associated with the workers compensation.

InsuranceShark recommendation:

Weigh the pros and the cons of the implementation of a health/wellness program carefully.  Although we recommend it, based upon the size of your company, the costs of the program, the costs of your workers compensation insurance, risk tolerance, and retention are factors that need to be evaluated.  Work with your consultants, brokers, and risk managers to determine if it is right for you.  Please Contact Us if you have additional questions around this topic.

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Arnold Smith

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