The Employment Lawyer’s Prescription: Pay It Forward by Investing in a Healthy Work Culture

By: Steven M. Berlin and Bradley J. Bartolomeo
Thursday, June 5, 2014

While providing competent, innovative, accessible and personalized care for patients has always been the focus of any healthcare organization, the recent trend of many institutions has been to widen this focus on wellness to the healthcare providers — namely, their employees. 

Steven Berlin and Bradley Bartolomeo

With healthcare costs steadily increasing and slated to rise due to recent healthcare mandates, the cost of care to employers continues to be a larger line item in all budgets. Coupled with more employees using the healthcare system, the inflation in employee-related healthcare costs is a concern for all employers, big and small.

These costs are not to be overlooked. Surveys have reported that health care makes up one-sixth of the total U.S. economy. In 2012, the amount spent on health care in the United States grew 3.7 percent, averaging now $8,915 per person and totaling a whopping $2.8 trillion hit to the U.S. economy.1

What can the employer do to keep these costs down? One approach is to incentivize employees to stay healthy. With corporate employers expected to spend an average of $594 per employee on wellness-based incentives in 2014, there is hope that “paying it forward” will ultimately lead to savings on healthcare costs.2

A recent trend has resulted in companies, including some well-known metropolitan hospitals, taking this stay-healthy preventative approach to heart, shifting the workplace focus from the reactive to the proactive. Fostering a healthy environment from within provides the foundation for healthcare providers to not only better their personal health but also to improve the service they provide their patients. When employees work in a healthy culture and participate in workplace wellness programs and their alternatives, both the employer and employee benefit, enabling the business to decrease overall spending on health care while simultaneously enabling employees to attain a higher level of energy, engagement and happiness in the workplace.

So the question becomes, what should an employer offer employees in terms of workplace wellness programs? Once that is answered, the question becomes how to get employees to participate in these programs.

Lifestyle management initiatives continue to be the most popular focus of workplace wellness programs. Examples of services might include weight-loss advice, smoking cessation programs, company-sponsored and -subsidized gym memberships, physical activity programs, and stress management classes. To further encourage healthy lifestyle options and improve company grounds, employers can make infrastructure improvements by building and maintaining additional walking and biking paths and installing bicycle racks at all buildings. And what’s so wrong about using higher-quality products in the cafeteria that are lower in fat, cholesterol and sodium?

Employers need not stop there. Other offerings can include programs specifically directed at preventing disease, managing chronic illnesses or decreasing health risk factors. By counseling and providing disease/care management programs for chronic conditions such as diabetes, implementing incentives for employees to quit smoking, and offering free flu shots, employers can make a direct impact on the health of their employees, today and tomorrow.

Even offering one program shows your employees that as an employer you care about their health — and so should they.

Getting your employees to participate in these programs can be a challenge, but not one that is without reasonable and proven effective solutions. Financial incentives for participating in wellness programs are shown to promote participation. These incentives can be delivered through several methods, including employee benefit contributions, gift cards, and/or through contribution to a health savings plan (HRA, HSA or FSA). Just be sure to do your homework to ensure that your plans have alternatives and comport with state and federal regulations.

So what is the employment lawyer’s prescription? Start paying it forward. The savings in costs — and lives — is worth the investment.


Steven M. Berlin is a Partner and Head of Martin Clearwater & Bell LLP’s Employment and Labor Practice Group. Bradley J. Bartolomeo is an Associate at Martin Clearwater & Bell LLP. For more information, visit www.mcblaw.com.