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Corporate Wellness Programs: What are They Fit For?

As the economies of Colorado and the nation continue to struggle, a number of employers are experimenting with employee wellness programs as a way of reducing injuries eligible for workers' compensation.

The industry publication Business Insurance says most employers introduce wellness, fitness and disease management programs to reduce nonoccupational disability costs and absences while increasing productivity.

Now some are directing employees to the programs in efforts to reduce workers' comp claims. One of the employers doing this is Colorado-based workers' compensation insurer Pinnacol.

The company hopes to get 30,000 employees of its Colorado clients in a study designed to determine whether Pinnacol can reduce workers' comp claim frequency and severity while boosting productivity.

Pinnacol's effort includes small employers who might not even provide employees with health insurance plans.

Jeff Tetrick, Pinnacol's chief financial officer, told Business Insurance that, "What we are trying to say is if you improve your score, there are fewer accidents; and if you do have an accident, you recover quicker. People who have good health have lower [accident] frequency."

Elsewhere, employers are trying to determine if they can address employee health issues that have nothing to do with their occupation without making the company liable for the nonoccupational health issue. For example, an obese employee's back problem might be exacerbated by extra weight.

Could the company be held liable for obesity-related problems if it tries to get the employee into a program to address obesity? No one really knows yet, but it's an area of employment law garnering interest.

In some places, employers are wary of courts that might effectively rule that "if you touch it, you buy it."

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