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Answers to Your Most Burning Employment Law Questions about COVID-19

Posted By Barbara J. Zabawa, JD, MPH, Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has sent the United States into a tailspin. While the primary focus has been on containing the virus, employers have a lot of questions about how to handle employee absences and sickness.  

Luckily, the federal agencies that enforce some of our most important employment laws have issued guidance for employers, including a number of helpful Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). Here is a sampling of the FAQs, with a link to resources at the bottom of this blog post. Also at the end of the blog post, is a brief explanation of the Constitutional question about the ability of governments to mandate quarantine and vaccination, an important question relating to individual rights versus public safety.  

As always, you should also check your local and state laws to ensure that you are fully complying with all the levels of law that affect the employee-employer relationship. The FAQs below address federal law questions only.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

With the ADA, it is important to note that when there is a “direct threat” (i.e., a risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation), such as arguably when the World Health Organization has declared a pandemic (which it has), an employee is not protected by the nondiscrimination provisions of the ADA. 29 CFR § 1630.2(r). With that in mind, here are some common FAQs relating to the ADA:

Q1: May an ADA-covered employer send employees home if they display influenza-like symptoms during a pandemic?

A2: Yes. The CDC states that employees who become ill with symptoms of influenza-like illness at work during a pandemic should leave the workplace. Advising such workers to go home is not a disability-related action if the illness is akin to seasonal influenza or the 2009 spring/summer H1N1 virus. Additionally, the action would be permitted under the ADA if the illness were serious enough to pose a direct threat.

 Q2: During a pandemic, how much information may an ADA-covered employer request from employees who report feeling ill at work or who call in sick?

A2: ADA-covered employers may ask such employees if they are experiencing influenza-like symptoms, such as fever or chills and a cough or sore throat. Employers must maintain all information about employee illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with the ADA.
If pandemic influenza is like seasonal influenza or spring/summer 2009 H1N1, these inquiries are not disability related. If pandemic influenza becomes severe, the inquiries, even if disability-related, are justified by a reasonable belief based on objective evidence that the severe form of pandemic influenza poses a direct threat.

Q3: During a pandemic, may an ADA-covered employer ask employees who do not have influenza symptoms to disclose whether they have a medical condition that the CDC says could make them especially vulnerable to influenza complications?

A3: If an employee voluntarily discloses (without a disability-related inquiry) that he has a specific medical condition or disability that puts him or her at increased risk of influenza complications, the employer must keep this information confidential. The employer may ask him to describe the type of assistance he thinks will be needed (e.g. telework or leave for a medical appointment). Employers should not assume that all disabilities increase the risk of influenza complications. Many disabilities do not increase this risk (e.g. vision or mobility disabilities).

If an influenza pandemic becomes more severe or serious according to the assessment of local, state or federal public health officials, ADA-covered employers may have sufficient objective information from public health advisories to reasonably conclude that employees will face a direct threat if they contract pandemic influenza. Only in this circumstance may ADA-covered employers make disability-related inquiries or require medical examinations of asymptomatic employees to identify those at higher risk of influenza complications.

Q4: May an employer encourage employees to telework (i.e., work from an alternative location such as home) as an infection-control strategy during a pandemic?

A4: Yes. Telework is an effective infection-control strategy that is also familiar to ADA-covered employers as a reasonable accommodation.

In addition, employees with disabilities that put them at high risk for complications of pandemic influenza may request telework as a reasonable accommodation to reduce their chances of infection during a pandemic.

Q5: May an employer covered by the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 compel all of its employees to take the influenza vaccine regardless of their medical conditions or their religious beliefs during a pandemic?

A5: No. An employee may be entitled to an exemption from a mandatory vaccination requirement based on an ADA disability that prevents him from taking the influenza vaccine. This would be a reasonable accommodation barring undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense). Similarly, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, once an employer receives notice that an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance prevents him from taking the influenza vaccine, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless it would pose an undue hardship as defined by Title VII (“more than de minimis cost” to the operation of the employer’s business, which is a lower standard than under the ADA).

Generally, ADA-covered employers should consider simply encouraging employees to get the influenza vaccine rather than requiring them to take it.

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) FAQs

Employees who work for employers covered by FMLA and who have worked for that employer for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours are generally eligible for up to 12 weeks unpaid, job-protected leave, including the continuation of group health insurance coverage during that time. 29 CFR Part 825.

Q1: Is an employer required by law to provide paid sick leave to employees who are out of work because they have pandemic influenza, have been exposed to a family member with influenza, or are caring for a family member with influenza?

A1: Federal law generally does not require employers to provide paid leave to employees who are absent from work because they are sick with pandemic flu, have been exposed to someone with the flu or are caring for someone with the flu. But see next FAQ. Certain state or local laws may have different requirements, which should be independently considered by employers when determining their obligation to provide paid sick leave.

If the leave qualifies as FMLA-protected leave, the statute allows the employee to elect or the employer to require the substitution of paid sick and paid vacation/personal leave in some circumstances. Employers should encourage employees that are ill with pandemic influenza to stay home and should consider flexible leave policies for their employees.

Q2: Will recent proposed legislation by Congress require paid sick leave because of COVID-19?

A2: Possibly. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act is making its way through Congress and overall has bipartisan support. As currently drafted as of the date of this post, the new law would grant two weeks paid sick leave at 100% of a person’s normal salary, up to $511/day, and provide up to 12 weeks paid FMLA leave at 67% normal pay, up to $200/day cap.  

However, currently the proposed law does not cover large companies with more than 500 employees. Employees who work for large companies must rely on those companies’ current sick leave policies and any state or local law that may cover them.

Q3: What legal responsibility do employers have to allow parents or care givers time off from work to care for the sick or children who have been dismissed from school?

A3: Covered employers must abide by the FMLA as well as any applicable state FMLA laws. An employee who is sick, or whose family members are sick, may be entitled to leave under the FMLA.

The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a designated 12-month leave year for specified family and medical reasons which may include the flu where complications arise that create a “serious health condition” as defined by the FMLA.

There is currently no federal law covering non-government employees who take off from work to care for healthy children, and employers are not required by federal law to provide leave to employees caring for dependents who have been dismissed from school or child care (but the Families First Coronavirus Response Act may address this gap). However, given the potential for significant illness under some pandemic influenza scenarios, employers should review their leave policies to consider providing increased flexibility to their employees and their families.

Remember that federal law mandates that any flexible leave policies must be administered in a manner that does not discriminate against employees because of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age (40 and over), disability, or veteran status.

Q4: May an employer require an employee who is out sick with pandemic influenza to provide a doctor’s note, submit to a medical exam, or remain symptom-free for a specified amount of time before returning to work?

A4: Yes. However, employers should consider that during a pandemic, healthcare resources may be overwhelmed, and it may be difficult for employees to get appointments with doctors or other health care providers to verify they are well or no longer contagious.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) FAQs

The federal FLSA law, 29 USC Chapter 8, generally requires employers to pay non-exempt employees at least a minimum wage and pay them overtime. Exempt employees who are salaried generally must receive their full salary in any week in which they perform any work, subject to certain very limited exceptions.

Q1: How many hours is an employer obligated to pay an hourly-paid employee who works a partial week because the employer’s business closed?

A1: The FLSA generally applies to hours actually worked. It does not require employers who are unable to provide work to non-exempt employees to pay them for hours the employees would have otherwise worked. 

Q2: How many hours per day or per week can an employee work?

A2: The FLSA does not limit the number of hours per day or per week that employees aged 16 years and older can be required to work.

Q3: Can an employee be required to perform work outside of the employee's job description?

 A3: Yes. The FLSA does not limit the types of work employees age 18 and older may be required to perform. However, there are restrictions on what work employees under the age of 18 can do. This is true whether or not the work asked of the employee is listed in the employee's job description.

Q4: Do employers have to pay employees their same hourly rate or salary if they work at home?

A4: If telework is being provided as a reasonable accommodation for a qualified individual with a disability, or if required by a union or employment contract, then you must pay the same hourly rate or salary.

If this is not the case and you do not have a union contract or other employment contracts, under the FLSA employers generally must pay employees only for the hours they actually work, whether at home or at the employer’s office. However, the FLSA requires employers to pay non-exempt workers at least the minimum wage for all hours worked, and at least time and one half the regular rate of pay for hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek. Salaried exempt employees generally must receive their full salary in any week in which they perform any work, subject to certain very limited exceptions.

Q5: Are businesses and other employers required to cover any additional costs that employees may incur if they work from home (internet access, computer, additional phone line, increased use of electricity, etc.)?

A5: Employers may not require employees who are covered by the FLSA to pay or reimburse the employer for such items that are business expenses of the employer if doing so reduces the employee's earnings below the required minimum wage or overtime compensation.

Q6: Do OSHA’s regulations and standards apply to the home office? Are there any other Federal laws employers need to worry about if employees work from home?

A6: The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have any regulations regarding telework in home offices. The agency issued a directive in February 2000 stating that the agency will not conduct inspections of employees' home offices, will not hold employers liable for employees' home offices, and does not expect employers to inspect the home offices of their employees. If OSHA receives a complaint about a home office, the complainant will be advised of OSHA's policy. If an employee makes a specific request, OSHA may informally let employers know of complaints about home office conditions but will not follow-up with the employer or employee.

Employers who are required to keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses will continue to be responsible for keeping such records for injuries and illnesses occurring in a home office.

United States Constitution Questions

How can the government force me to quarantine or be vaccinated against my will?  What about my individual right to be free from government intrusion?

There is a U.S. Supreme Court case from 1905 that I like to share with my health law students called Jacobson v. Massachusetts that answers those questions. In that case, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed a law allowing local health departments to require and enforce vaccination of all residents. The penalty for refusing vaccination was $5.00. The city of Cambridge decided to implement this law to require all individuals to get vaccinated for smallpox. Henning Jacobson refused, stating that the requirement infringed on his constitutional right to life, liberty or property under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  

The US Supreme Court ruled against Mr. Jacobson, noting that the vaccination law was backed by science, and quoted the following, pertinent language:

“But the liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint. There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good. On any other basis organized society could not exist with safety to its members. Society based on the rule that each one is a law unto himself would soon be confronted with disorder and anarchy.”  

“The possession and enjoyment of all rights are subject to such reasonable conditions as may be deemed by the governing authority of the country essential to the safety, health, peace, good order, and morals of the community. Even liberty itself, the greatest of all rights, is not unrestricted license to act according to one’s own will. It is only freedom from restraint under conditions essential to the equal enjoyment of the same right by others. It is, then, liberty regulated by law.”  

“Upon the principle of self-defense, of paramount necessity, a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members.”

Helpful Links:

• https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/flsa/pandemic

If you have further, more specific questions, do not hesitate to contact the Center for Health and Wellness Law, LLC.  We are here to help.

Along with starting her law firm, the Center for Health and Wellness Law, LLC, almost 5 years ago, Barbara Zabawa has also started the nonprofit Wellness Compliance Institute (WCI). Thus far, WCI has created standards of conduct for wellness professionals as well as brokers. These standards are essential to ethical and legal wellness practice. Barbara has presented at the National Wellness Conference on workplace wellness compliance issues for the last four years. As a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, she has conducted research on the use of incentives in workplace wellness programs, and whether those incentives are perceived as complying with the requirement that information collection is “voluntary” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Tags:  Coronavirus  employee wellness  Employment law  Worksite Wellness 

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The BRATLAB ‘Habit Prescription Dose Value’ Series: Build Positive Relationships to Boost Productivity

Posted By Hanlie van Wyk, Monday, March 2, 2020

In a previous post, we divided happiness into three easy to remember concepts: Pleasure, People, and Prosperity

  • "Pleasure" refers to maximizing pleasurable moments (such as comfort, entertainment, and enjoyment) that lead to the satisfaction of a person’s wants and needs. This might contribute to a level of life satisfaction.
  • "People" is about having positive relationships with others. As social animals, we crave social acceptance, strive for social contribution and seek integration with a community.
  • "Prosperity" is more than what money can buy. It’s about flourishing and living authentically; actualizing one’s inherent potentials as the way to well-being.

Where should you focus your time and energy? Which happiness habit would have the greatest impact on an individual’s and organization’s productivity?

Researchers believe that about 40% of your happiness is within your control. Essentially, this means that happiness can be “generated”, and we could practice “happiness habits” for maximum beneficial impact in life and at work. The Behavioral Research and Applied Technology Laboratory researched nine happiness habits that could improve productivity and divided them into three categories: Foster, Focus and Savor. In this series, we will look at each of the nine happiness habits and explore the value that each one can bring.

Let’s start with Foster, and in particular, the importance of building positive relationships at work.

Building Positive Relationships

Happiness at work doesn’t come from raises, bonuses or perks. It comes from two things: results and relationships, i.e. doing great work together with great people. It comes from the things that you and I do, here and now. When we have healthy connections with the people we work with, we are more likely to show up fully engaged and productive at work. According to Gallup, people who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. And it doesn't have to be a best friend: just having a good friend in the workplace makes it more likely to be satisfying. This shows how important it is to build healthy relationships at work, and the value of feeling a sense of connection and relatedness. 

Making the Change:  Habits for Fostering Positive Relationships

1. Be civil

Rudeness in the workplace isn’t just harmful, it’s also contagious. "You might go your whole career and not experience abuse or aggression in the workplace, but rudeness also has a negative effect on performance," says Trevor Foulk from the University of Florida. Trevor and his research team noticed that common negative behaviors could spread easily, just like the flu, and have significant consequences for people in organizations.

2. Smile and say “hello”

Saying hello is quick and free! Researchers at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts tell about the power of a smile, and have shown it's the little things that make a big difference in social interaction. Combine saying “hello” with a smile and it humanizes the workplace. Employees who smile more have customers who report higher satisfaction. Kathy Savitt, Managing Director at Perch Partners, a consulting firm, warns, “I think it’s easy for people at many companies to become cynical, which then leads to politics, which can create a cancer that can topple even the greatest companies.”

3. Don’t pair

Pairing occurs when two or more people engage in a “side conversation” about issues and concerns, without bringing those issues to the table to be discussed openly. Exclusionary behavior like this is likely to aggravate an already difficult situation. Failure to address the issue openly could lead to dissension, resentment, reduced productivity, and ultimately, the loss of high performers that become alienated by the toxic culture. If anger and rejection is allowed to brood, there is an increased risk of office aggression and violence. According to Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder, while it is part of human nature to associate with peers that have similar traits and personalities, pairing and cliques can be harmful and counterproductive.

4. Arrange voluntary small group meetings

Change Craft’s research on the impact of fostering positive relationships on productivity found that holding small, voluntary group meetings once a week increased informal sharing of ideas and suggestions. This in turn lead to improved production efficiency (9%) and overall productivity (17%).


Higher connectivity among team members is linked to a team’s performance. By increasing connectedness, psychological well-being is enhanced. Any organization looking to evaluate the impact of investing in these changes or wanting to understand more about how to create happy, healthy, and change-ready cultures should contact Change Craft at hello@changecraft.consulting.

Further Reading

Foulk, T., Woolum, A., & Erez, A. (2016). Catching rudeness is like catching a cold: The contagion effects of low-intensity negative behaviors. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(1), 50–67. https://doi.org/10.1037/apl0000037

Sommers, S. (2011). Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World. Riverhead Books (Penguin).


About the Author:

Hanlie is a behavioral change expert, systems strategist, author, and PhD candidate for Hate Crime Studies. Her fascination with human behavior started while growing up in South Africa. From working to prevent hate crime to humanizing the workplace, her career spans three decades and four continents researching and applying behavioral change strategies to some of the most challenging behavioral problems. As Director of Change for Change Craft (powered by Behavioral Research and Applied Technology Laboratory) she studies, develops, and applies agnostic systems and practices that make change sticky, and results in high performing individuals and cultures.

Tags:  Emotional  Emotional wellness  occupational wellness  Social  Social Wellness  Worksite wellness 

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The Impact of Today’s Technology on Tomorrow’s Work

Posted By Dr. Tyler Amell , Tuesday, January 28, 2020
Updated: Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Robot and and human hand reaching out to touch fingertips.In their prescient book, The Race Against the Machine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee put forward the argument that “many present-day organizations, institutions, policies and mindsets are not keeping up” with the pace of technological change. With the ever-increasing application of automation, machine learning, robots, cobots and artificial intelligence, that ominous conclusion is already making itself felt in the employment space.

Until recently, minimum, low or living wage workers were considered to be one of the most impacted groups by the effect of robotics and technology, but new research places more educated and higher wage workers directly in the path of influence by Artificial Intelligence. Though still difficult to predict, a recent study by the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings warns “AI’s distinctive capacities suggest that higher-wage occupations will be some of the most exposed.”

In the broad midsection of employment, between low and high wage earners, computerization has and will continue to replace traditional “white collar” and “blue-collar” workers performing clerical or repetitive tasks. As a result, all employment groups are at risk, and when the evolution is complete and when employment is dominated by low wage and very high wage earners, this will lead to greater polarization of the labor market which will only add to the current societal issue of income inequality.

These dramatic changes across the board in our work environment have, and will result in very broad social change, presenting significant organizational and Human Resources (HR) challenges.

Machines on a worker-less factory floor.Read any recent commentary on mobilizing our human capital to meet the needs of work in the future, and you will hear two recurrent themes: investment in education, and on-the-job skills training. But for various reasons, there are disturbing trends.

For example, from 1915 to 2005, time spent in school increased by an astounding six years, accounting for a 14 percent increase in worker productivity, directly affecting economic growth. But since 1988, many advanced economies have seen educational attainment level off, and in some cases fall.

The economic risk to those countries with advanced economies is evident when you consider that students completing higher levels of education are also those most likely to possess more “abstract” or human-only skills such as problem-solving, intuition, persuasion and creativity. Even with the looming impact of artificial intelligence, some of these high-value skills are unlikely to be displaced by automation in the immediate future, which is promising for the current mindset toward higher education.

With all of this in mind, how can today’s employers help develop tomorrow’s employees to meet the impact of technology on the future of work?

One-third of workers today are anxious about their future, and much of that concern can be attributed to technology and automation. While not surprising, it’s a very problematic statistic as that anxiety crushes self-confidence and inhibits a worker’s willingness, and ability, to adapt.

As more work moves online, self-employment and short-term contracts will become even more prevalent, resulting in less job security, more financial instability, and even greater stress. An out of office workplace, and the lack of a social environment means less job control and participation in decision-making. The inevitable anxiety is often cause for a number of physical and psychological health issues.

On the more positive side, research reports that 74 per cent of workers are prepared to learn new skills or completely retrain in order to remain employable in the future. But what those skills represent, and where training is made available, is one of today’s largest organizational challenges. The following should be considered when considering the future of work at your organization:

  • Start a meaningful dialogue on the future of work with your employees, your organization, and your community. If you have a healthy Corporate Social Responsibility program today, make more of it tomorrow. And keep in mind that you have internal as well as external audiences for these initiatives. Be as inclusive as your situation allows. Longer-term planning for five, 10, 15, and even 20 years out pays dividends and moves us away from our ‘next quarter’ mindset.
  • Help current employees assess their strengths and how they can adapt them to a more automated world. The mantra for employers should be “Protect people, not jobs.”
  • The coming workforce won’t be all STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and application programmers. How your organization values and helps to develop human skills like collaboration, adaptability, and conceptual thinking will be increasingly important.
  • Through on-the-job training, increase and broaden the development of critical technical skills specific to your organization. Do it today. The pace of change is accelerating.
  • Establish high-performance work practices such as problem-solving teams, job rotation, and information sharing that will enable workers to enhance the benefits of advanced technologies.

Factory showing equipment but almost no humans.Tomorrow’s Workforce

Artificial Intelligence will influence the nature of work in profound ways. But the effect that it has on a human scale is already becoming obvious. On the positive side, people will be less likely to work in traditionally hazardous environments thanks to robotics and automation, leading to a decreased risk of injury or illness from work-related events. But the incoming younger generations may work longer, resulting in an aging workforce that may have higher levels of chronic diseases. More people will be working remotely in part-time, contract, or freelance positions, outside the traditional employee/employer relationship. This may increase loneliness, anxiety, and stress due to precarious employment. The cost of health care is just one of the issues that will shape the evolution of tomorrow’s workforce.

Stages of Automation

A recent study on the future of work by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) defines the stages of automation as:

  • Assisted Intelligence for example, today’s GPS and monitoring systems in our cars;
  • Augmented intelligence is the emerging technology that enables car-and ride-sharing services; and,
  • Autonomous Intelligence like the rapidly approaching future of self-driving cars.

Technology and the ever-increasing amount of data it depends on will shape the future, but how much will humans affect that landscape?

The PwC study gives us four scenarios, each reflecting how society may temper, or accentuate the rise of technology:

  1. In the first scenario, The Red World, technology and its most innovative specialists will define the economy. Specific, relevant skills and experience will result in the largest rewards, with those workers frequently moving from one contract opportunity to another. Innovation is key, and corporate size is out-flanked by small, more nimble, and agile, entrepreneurial companies. “Full-time” workers comprise less than 10 per cent of the workforce.
  2. In the second scenario, The Blue World, global corporations run the show. A core group of exceptional talent enjoy exceptional rewards but rely on the expertise and skills of freelance or contract “as needed” workers. Being a full-time corporate employee brings with it excellent compensation and benefits, and relentless pressure to perform. Augmented technology, medication, and implants help corporate employees push past the limits of human performance. Those employees are expected to develop and hone their skillset continually. The disparity in wealth distribution widens the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
  3. The third scenario, the aptly named The Green World, sees the importance of a strong corporate social conscience rise in importance as a result of public opinion. Extensive use of automation and technology helps organizations meet these goals but come at a cost to jobs. A green agenda, the result of increasingly scarce natural resources, and demanding international regulations recognize that business has an impact that goes well beyond financial considerations.
  4. The fourth scenario, The Yellow World, is the result of workers and companies reacting to public policy that seeks “fairness” in the distribution of wealth and resources. Workers feel the strongest loyalty to people in their skill set, not their employer. Worker associations, like “Guilds” from the Middle Ages, re-emerge, providing protection, benefits, and training for many types of workers. Technology and automation must temper their impact as workers push back against policies that favor others.

Workers that demonstrate leadership, empathy, and creativity will be rewarded and attracted to organizations that display these same traits. And the most successful organizations in any of the four worlds will be those that make foundational health and wellbeing programs a core offering, inspiring discretionary effort from their employees or contractors and as a result, achieving the highest level of productivity.

Individual wellbeing platforms on employee portals facilitate physical and psychological health support. In the future, these personalized, data-rich platforms will expand into other significant stress-related areas, such as financial health and interpersonal relationship health.

Constantly expanding technology, and immensely powerful social trends will shape the future of work, but which direction it takes is almost impossible to predict. Companies and individual workers should prepare for a number of outcomes. But one is very predictable: organizations that fail to adapt to these new realities will not be able to compete successfully, leaving their people frustrated, and alienated.

Dr. Tyler AmellDr. Tyler Amell is an internationally recognized thought leader on the topic of workplace health and productivity, as well as a frequent speaker and writer. He is a trusted advisor on strategic and integrated workplace health and is the Chief Relationship Officer at CoreHealth Technologies, a corporate wellness technology company that powers well-being programs for global providers. He is on faculty at Pacific Coast University for Workplace Health Sciences and is on the Executive Board at the Work Wellness and Disability Prevention Institute and as well as the National Wellness Institute. In the past, he has served on the executive board of the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), and the Canadian Association for Research on Work and Health (CARWH). He has held senior executive positions in a variety of sectors including human resources technology, consulting and healthcare.

Tags:  occupatioal wellness  workplace wellness  Worksite wellness 

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Wellness Trends - July 2019

Posted By NWI, Thursday, July 25, 2019

Surgeon General Priority: Community Health and Economic Prosperity

The health of Americans is not as good as it could be, despite large expenditures on healthcare. Our poorer health status creates costs and challenges for individuals, families, communities, and businesses, and can be a drag on the economy, as too many jobs remain unfilled and productivity is adversely affected. Many of our poor health problems are rooted in inadequate investments in prevention and unequal economic opportunities in our communities.  Read more at HHS.gov.


Is #MeToo a Multicultural Competency? 

Great article on how the #MeToo movement is shaping policy at work. Consultants, public health leaders, health coaches, academics, clinicians need to consider the positive impact that can be had with understanding multi-cultural strategies.  The article states, “The #MeToo movement set in motion a nationwide discussion and contributed to countless positive changes. The next step is to make sure that current sexual harassment policies are in place and understood by everyone to create a safe, welcoming workplace for all employees.”  As you read this, think about the multi-cultural competencies that must be considered beyond gender.  Read more at BenefitsPRO.com.


Can summer stress cause employee burnout? 

While summertime is often seen as a leisurely season where Americans take time off for extended family vacations and enjoy long days at the beach, new research suggests time off doesn’t always translate into reduced stress.  Read more at benefitnews.com.


Self-Care Guidelines and How to Teach Others about the Power of Self-Care

In an effort to bring the practice of self-care to a broader audience, The World Health Organization(WHO) has launched its first guideline on self-care interventions for health.  It’s aimed to “empower individuals, families and communities to optimize their health as advocates.

While this is a great resource to offer, just handing out a guidebook will not solve the issue. We must train individuals to teach others about the power of self-care.  It begins with understanding how to dive into one’s conscience, in an effort to make the change.  Programs like NWI’s Empowered Health Consciousness is a great way to learn these tools.  Please read the WHO guidelines and learn for yourself, but consider how you can teach others to develop better self-care.  


Worksite Wellness 


Well-Being Enhances Benefits of Employee Engagement

Two major factors influence employee performance, Gallup has found: engagement and well-being . Read more at Gallup.com.


8 Things You Need To Know About Employee Wellness Programs

Employee wellness programs can look different at different companies, and that’s a good thing.  Read more at Forbes.com.


The Right Ingredients Brew Wellness Program Success

Stress management and tech tools improve outcomes, but incentives are questioned. Read more at SHRM.org.


Financial Wellness


6 Ways to Measure the Success of Financial Wellness Efforts  

Employers are missing out on opportunities to improve these programs.  Read more SHRM.org.


Pay Off Debt Or Save For Retirement? It's Time For An Actuary-Splainer 

What's the best approach to managing finances?  Read more at Forbes.com.


5 Things to Know About Financial Wellness Programs  

More employers offer workers guidance on budgeting and paying down debt. Here's how to make the most of it.  Read more ConsumerReports.com.


Tags:  burnout  Community wellness  employee wellness  Empowered Health Consciousness  Financial Wellness  multicultural competency  self care  trends  wellness trends  Worksite Wellness 

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Refresh and Refocus Your Employee Wellness Programme

Posted By Dr. Dicky Els, Friday, June 21, 2019

Business team greeting eachother, laptop with charts and graphs in foregroundEmployee wellness programmes have multiple benefits, both for employers and their employees, if it is well designed and effectively managed. In fact, there is no question that the health and wellness of employees is a critical component of a thriving workplace, but the key is in evaluating what the actual business benefits of employee wellness programmes are.

Prior to investing in employee health promotion, employers are encouraged to consider how their efforts will be measured, monitored, and evaluated. More importantly, they need to define the financial and non-financial objectives, target specific health risk conditions, and set employee wellness programme objectives that align with the organisation’s human capital management strategy.

Rather than holding employee wellness programmes up as an employer of choice initiative, organisations should reposition them as human capital development strategies. Poorly designed initiatives usually focus on “flavour-of-the-month activities” that rightfully create awareness and educate employees, but it fail to address specific organisational risks, or to capitalise on any organisation development opportunities. As a result senior executives become sceptical about the actual value of employee wellness programmes. They want to analyse the cost and calculate the return on investment (ROI) and the net present value (NPV) of employee wellness programmes. For them, it is important to quantify the effectiveness of disease, pre-disease, health, and wellness management in relation to the medical and economic cost that include aspects such as productivity, turnover, replacements, absenteeism, and presenteeism cost. Basically, senior executives want to follow an outcome-based approach that address specific regions, population groups, health risk conditions, and job functions in order to measure the impact of the interventions and their effectiveness on various diseases or health risk conditions. In fairness, they are looking for the evidence—as well as the link—between financial investment and improved work performance.

Business case

Business team analyzing charts and graphs

Before implementing an employee wellness programme, and from a strategic human capital management perspective, organisations should first endeavour to develop a proper business case for employee wellness. In developing the business case, successful employee wellness programmes set out to determine what the burden of disease for their workforce is. With health risk assessments that are usually conducted at the annual wellness-day, employers aim to determine what the health risk prevalence and incidence of the organisation's workforce are. The intention is to determine the health status of employees, but much more can be gained from these assessments.

Health risk assessments typically measure and report lifestyle indicators such as physical activity, nutrition and diet, body fat, sleep patterns, and clinical preventative biometric measures that include, for example, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. This management information is then used to help the organisation determine the collective or organisational health risk. However, the organisation's ability to predict future disease risks, and of course, to calculate the ROI and NPV for specific wellness and disease management interventions are still lacking. More advanced organisations accurately access the immediate and the future health risks of employees, as well as measure and manage the probability and severity of these adverse effects. With the use of innovative health risk assessments and predictive analytics, they translate large quantities of wellness and disease management information into business intelligence and actionable insights. By understanding the financial and non-financial (business) risks, and the potential rewards related to employee wellness, organisations are able to manage it more effectively as a business imperative.

Both the health risk conditions and the costs associated with the health risks of employees are important sets of management information. To determine the wellness programme objectives, organisations first need to identify the health risks of employees and similarly, determine the high, medium, and low risk population groups. Secondly, they need to forecast what the medical and economic costs for each risk group could be. When employee health risks are accurately assessed and monetised, appropriate wellness and disease management interventions target specific organisational outcomes.

Management intervention

businessman looking at data

When employers take more control over health risk assessment data and the recording and reporting of their employee wellness and disease management information, they are better positioned to determine the impact of their management interventions. The more sophisticated the wellness and disease management information is, the more advanced the predictions are that the organisation will be able to make about the future onset of pre-disease and disease, as well as the various pathogenic stages of diseases, aiming to deliver cost effective, targeted, and appropriate interventions. The real value of the appropriate use of wellness and disease management information lies in the fact that the organisation can better manage and control disease morbidity and its associated costs. Furthermore, by understanding the different stages of disease development, organisations are able to effectively manage the impact of the identified occupational and non-occupational diseases. Management intervention, and more specifically the employee wellness programme, should then be utilised to tolerate, terminate, transfer, or treat employee health risks towards an acceptable level.

In these instances, the intention is to focus on employee health and organisational risk mitigation strategies that prevent and treat health risks, pre-disease, and disease, as well as promote employee health and wellness. These organisations adopt a combination of curative (disease management), preventative, and health promotion (wellness management) interventions. In addition, well-executed programmes use wellness and disease management software to help with data gathering, predictive analytics, document control, and to manage absences and claims effectively.

By enabling employees to feel good and to function well at work, best-practice employee wellness programmes add significant value to the performance, quality of life, and longevity of employees. In this regard, we should consider the difference between the consumption of health care services and an investment in employee wellness or health promotion. For example, when a temporary health condition such as a neck pain is treated and resolved at the onsite clinic, this treatment does not contribute to the employee’s longevity. But when employees change their lifestyle or manage their health risk appropriately, and their life expectancy increases as a result, and the benefits of the employee wellness programme produce compounding effects from one term to the next. Furthermore, when employee wellness programmes incorporate wellness coaching that focuses on the development of employee engagement, resilience, self-efficacy, agility, hope, and optimism, it also supports the development of the emotional and social wellness of employees. For this reason, organisations should follow a dual process by managing the health risks and the wellness of employees. This means that a true investment in employee wellness will always mitigate health risks and prevent disease but, more importantly, also promote the overall health, longevity, and wellness of employees.


By embracing a holistic, integrated wellness and disease management approach, enlightened organisations broaden their views on human capital management and the extent to which it supports, creates, and promotes business value over time. When the health of employees is compromised, either by the employer's misconduct or by the employee's own doing, it is to be expected that the organisation's risks will also increase, promoting the probability of actual harm or loss to the organisation. These organisational risks can be accurately measured in the organisational performance and the medical and economic costs of the organisation. In contrast, when the health and wellness of employees is valued and promoted through appropriate management interventions, it appreciates in value. With a robust employee wellness and disease management programme in place, organisations can commit to help those employees who are sick better manage their health, prevent those who are at-risk from developing costly chronic conditions, and support the healthy to be well.

Dr Dicky ElsDr Dicky Els is an Employee Wellness Consultant who specialises predominantly in wellness and disease management strategy development, programme design, and the evaluation of outcome-based health promotion programmes.

Tags:  Worksite wellness 

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Biometric Screening – Venipuncture versus Finger Prick (for Worksite Wellness professionals)

Posted By NWI, Friday, December 1, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, November 22, 2017

In a survey conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, it was found that 53% of large firms and 20% of small firms offering health benefits provided employees the opportunity to complete biometric screening. Many employers understand the valuable snapshot that biometric numbers can provide into an individual’s health. 

Although there’s a solid understanding of the health value, there has been some debate over what method of sampling works best. There are two options, venipuncture and finger prick. Both have benefits and drawbacks depending on what you feel is best for your program. 

biometric screening

Tags:  biometric  Health  Worksite Wellness 

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Why Eating the Same Food Increases People's Trust And Cooperation

Posted By NWI, Monday, February 6, 2017

We understand that what we eat is important for maintaining our physical wellness, and foodies have long advocated that being connected to our food helps us make healthy food choices. Food is also a medium through which we connect with others and enhance our social wellness. However, many of us have developed the habit of eating alone--at our workstations, in restaurants, and in our cars. Food is a natural facilitator of social bonding, and in this short podcast from NPR, Shankar Vedantam discusses that eating the same foods with others creates feelings of trust and improves cooperation. So, next time you have a group project or just want to build a little social wellness into your day, make an intentional effort to share a meal or snack with your colleagues, friends, or family. 

Tags:  February 2017  Food  Worksite Wellness 

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How Your Life's Mission Statement Will Guide You To Greater Work-Life Balance

Posted By NWI, Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Most of us crave a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Too often, we spend our time reacting to responsibilities and demands, solving problems as they arise, but ultimately forgetting what we are seeking in life. Often, we find ourselves identifying things in life that we want to eliminate or avoid, like bullying, stress, or junk food, focusing on the negative rather than cultivating a positive image of a life worth living. To support employees in their search for purpose, Widen, a technology company, recently implemented a Discover Your Purpose Program where they learn to figure out what their reason for existence is and articulate a purpose statement. The goal is to help employees reach their fullest potential. This article by Forbes provides examples questions and movies that you or your wellness committee can use to create work-life balance that supports a person’s overarching mission statement.

Tags:  January 2017  Work-Life Balance  Worksite Wellness 

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87% of Employees Worldwide “Not Engaged”

Posted By NWI, Monday, November 7, 2016

An astonishing 87% of employees worldwide are “not engaged” with their work, resulting in low productivity for a vast array of companies that may or may not be aware of the problem. Gallup is defining “engaged” as meaning “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work.



The United States does have a higher average of worker engagement than the worldwide average, but still only has a 32% engagement rate, meaning that 68% of US employees are not actively engaged in their jobs. In the 15 years that Gallup has performed this poll, the engagement rate of US employees has never topped the 33% mark.


Breaking this down further, 50.8% of employees polled in the US claimed that they were “not engaged,” compared to 17.2% who claimed to be “actively disengaged.” Those disengaged workers commonly rate problems with company management as reasons for their lack of engagement.


Why does this matter? It matters because companies who have an engaged workforce see returns on their investment 150% higher than companies with a disengaged workforce.


For more information about Gallup’s employee engagement polls, click here.



Tags:  Employee Health  employee wellness  Engagement  Workers  Worksite Wellness 

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Wellness in 10: 10 Ways to Bring Gratitude Into the Workplace

Posted By NWI, Monday, October 3, 2016

According to a 2015 Wall Street Journal article, receiving gratitude at work is one of the best motivators. According to the same article, only about 20% of employees feel they’re receiving the gratitude they would like.


Keeping that statistic in mind, here are some thoughts on why you should bring more gratitude into the office, and how to do it:


1.     Take it top-down


If you want to signal a change in the culture of your company, a good place to start is at the top. If your director, CEO, president, or whomever is signing the checks starts giving out “thank you’s” on the regular, you can bet that it’ll catch on down the management chain.


2.     Make the thankless jobs thankful jobs


There are plenty of people in your office who do small tasks that go unnoticed. Your trash bin gets emptied. The restrooms get cleaned. The mail gets delivered. Handing out some thanks for these tasks can go a long way toward making those who do them feel like they’re more than just background scenery, but instead are a valuable part of your company. Hint: they really are!


3.     Sincerely


People can smell insincerity from around the block. Offering lip-service gratitude won’t cut it. When giving thanks for hard work, make sure that it’s specific to the individual being thanked.


4.     Make room for gratitude


A good way to signal that gratitude is going to be part of the culture to stay is to make space for it. A cork board, white board, or other public space dedicated to offering public thanks shows the organization that this is something that you value.


5.     Give thanks for rainy days


It’s easy to give thanks when the sun is shining, but if gratitude is really going to be part of your culture, it has to be done on the rainy days, too. Even when dealings don’t go your way, make an effort to say “That didn’t work out how we wanted, but we tried our hardest. Thanks for your effort. Now what did we learn to make it happen next time?”


6.     Take away ulterior motives


When making changes in the office, it’s natural to try to incentivize the behavior you want to occur. In this case: don’t. If there’s a prize for giving thanks, it’ll make the whole exercise feel insincere. With gratitude, the thanks is its own reward.


7.     It really is the thought that counts


Some people are better than others at showing gratitude, so when that gruff old factory employee makes an effort to gripe less than normal, that might be his way of trying to show gratitude. When taking on a culture of thanks, make an extra effort to pay attention to the intentions of your employees, and encourage them to grow in their new habits.


8.     Learn to accept thanks


If gratitude wasn’t part of your company culture previously, there might be an unforeseen road-block. It can be hard for some people to know how to accept thanks and praise.  Don’t get discouraged if gratitude in the office feels awkward at first. Teach your employees that it’s perfectly OK to respond to gratitude with smile and a simple “Thanks for noticing.”


9.     Thanks for making it possible


One group of people we may inadvertently be forgetting to thank, though it seems obvious, is our customers. How many transactions do we go through on a daily basis without giving a sincere “thanks?”  Your customers will notice, however, and their loyalty will improve, when you take time to sincerely thank them for keeping your company running.


10.  Practice gratitude


Literally. Just like every other habit, it will take time, mindfulness, and repetition for gratitude to become part of your every-day culture. Give it the attention it deserves, though, and it’ll become a fulfilling part of your company that will improve employee morale and retention.



That’s this October’s Wellness in 10! Please accept our big, warm THANKS to all of you for reading, and being a part of the National Wellness Institute! You all are an important part of our organization, and we sincerely appreciate your dedication to the wellness of your companies, communities, and selves.  Have a great October!  If you have any comments, please feel free to leave them below, or send us a message on Facebook, LinkedIn , or Twitter.



Tags:  Culture  Gratitude  Wellness in 10  Worksite Wellness 

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