Q. "Can wellness programs be made mandatory?"
A. A mandatory program raises significant legal issues, and employers must approach them cautiously. As a first step, many wellness programs use a health risk appraisal conducted by a health service provider, such as a nurse or occupational therapist. Under the ADA, an employer can only require an employee to undergo a medical examination or otherwise provide medical information subsequent to the beginning of employment, if it is job-related and consistent with business necessity. Equally important, employees need to buy into the program to make it work. If it is perceived negatively, the program will meet with resistance.
Q. "Can an employer receive information from the health assessments to identify the most common health issues that employees face?"
A. While data from health assessments is certainly helpful in determining what issues to focus on and setting goals, federal and state laws protecting the privacy of an employee's medical records apply. Information that has been aggregated and does not include identifying information generally is acceptable. However, small companies should be cautious if their census is such that the aggregate data has potential risk of individual health disclosures.