An ounce of prevention : the legal and business case for the implementation of workplace wellness programs
University of British Columbia
Master of Laws - LLM
The health of American and Canadian citizens is plummeting. Intrinsically tied to this decline has been inflation in the costs associated with poor health, both at the macro-governmental and the micro-employer levels. To curb these spiraling costs, Canadian and American governments and employers have fallen on traditional cost-reduction and benefit roll-backs to secure their economic bottom-lines. This thesis combats that orthodoxy by proposing that the appropriate course for dealing with poor employee health is charted through an increase in spending on health programs in the workplace. Workplace wellness programs seek to modify unhealthy employee lifestyle decisions by broadening health education efforts and incentivizing healthier changes. Given the reach of the workplace, it is ideally situated as a tool for reformation of employee health habits. While workplace wellness programs have been shown to substantially increase employee productivity and corporate profitability, there remains a general reluctance on the part of employers to integrate wellness promotion into the workplace. This hesitancy arises, in part, from an educational gap about how to legally and successfully integrate employee wellness messaging. Indeed, employers lack information on a number of key fronts, which has led to concerns about such programs. These areas of incomplete knowledge include: (1) the business costs associated with deteriorating employee health; (2) the emergent statistical research indicating that workplace wellness programs can result in significant returns on investment; (3) how to reduce exposure to legal liability when addressing personal decisions of employees; and (4) what are the necessary wellness program components, and what are the best ways to implement those components successfully. It is the purpose of this thesis to educate employers on these areas and alleviate the tension arising from corporate involvement in employee decision-making so that the development of workplace wellness programs will increase. Given the current state of public health in Canada and the United States, employers must recognize and understand their ability to positively influence the health of their employees. While this thesis cannot be the only catalyst in this emerging paradigm shift, it serves as a marking point towards that goal.
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