HR Policies & Procedures

Wellness Programs Tackle Number 2 Killer

In yesterday’s Advisor, we learned how to knock out the largest source of deaths; today we’ll look at the #2 killer, cancer, and also the ADA issues that wellness programs raise.

About a third of us get cancer and about 20 percent of us die of it, so in theory that makes cancer about half as important as cardiovascular disease, says Dr. W. Smith Chandler. Dr. Chandler is a board certified physician in occupational medicine who is also SPHR-certified.

Actually, though, cardiovascular disease is a little more than twice as important as cancer, because it tends to kill you younger than cancer does.  To help you put cancer and cardiovascular disease in perspective, ponder this: stroke is less deadly than heart attack.  And yet stroke kills more women than breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer combined.  So a lot of people have an exaggerated opinion about cancer risk. 

The good news about cancer is it’s increasingly preventable, curable, or manageable as a chronic disease.  Based on current knowledge, about 75% of cancer is either preventable or curable through early detection, and about 25% of cancer is more hopeless.  But even those cancers are becoming much more treatable as chronic diseases. 

So, 75% of cancer is affected by what you do – either prevention, like not smoking, or cure, like having colonoscopy. Cancer is actually a very optimistic topic if you’re conscientious.  And workplace wellness programs can be very important in helping people to be conscientious about cancer. 

To sum up, effective workplace wellness programs should focus primarily on prevention of illness, decline, and death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Secondarily, they may also address other issues such as adequate sleep, and automotive safety, and prevention of alcoholism, and so on. 

What’s In It for Employers

When you talk to senior management, says Dr. Chandler, take an entirely capitalistic approach and talk about saving and spending money.

The fact is that wellness can make employees more productive and less expensive.  Specifically employers can anticipate small improvements in one or more of the following areas: reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, increased loyalty, increased job satisfaction, and decreased health care costs. 

ADA Hassles? What’s a disability?

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Wellness and the ADA

Since wellness concerns may be linked to disabilities, employers must keep the ADA in mind. The ADA prohibits employers from making medical inquiries or requiring medical examinations unless job related and consistent with business necessity, and it prohibits taking any adverse employment action based on an individual’s disability.

Fortunately, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said that employers may conduct medical examinations and activities that are part of a voluntary wellness and health screening program without violating the ADA.

In designing your program, make sure that individuals with disabilities are offered alternative ways to participate if their disabilities would otherwise prevent their taking part.

ADA compliance—it seems to get tougher, not easier. How about Sears, Roebuck recently agreeing to pay $6.2 million in the single largest settlement for an ADA suit in EEOC history? And it didn’t help on March 24, 2011, when the long-awaited new final ADA regulations were put into place, broadening the scope of who is considered disabled.

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