September 26, 2019

Lunchtime yoga sessions, nutrition classes, and fitness challenges are only a few of the many examples of wellness initiatives that workplace parties are embracing in an effort to improve worker health, well-being, and productivity. Do these measures actually translate into a happier, healthier workforce? Can they complement more traditional occupational health and safety and attendance management programs? How can workplace parties determine whether these initiatives are successful? How can they ensure that wellness initiatives don’t run afoul of human rights or collective agreement requirements?

In this session, a health services expert will join seasoned labour counsel in examining the ins and outs of workplace wellness programs, addressing issues such as the following:

  • What are some examples of workplace wellness or health promotion measures that are commonly found in Canadian workplaces? Generally speaking, what are the aims/objectives of these programs? How do workplace parties determine whether an initiative is successful? Are there any hallmarks or features that successful programs have in common? Is there any evidence that these efforts translate into improved attendance, increased productivity, or reduced benefit costs?
  • How do workplace wellness programs interact with occupational health and safety programs? Do occupational health and safety programs achieve better results when they are integrated with an organization’s wellness initiatives?
  • Should unions be consulted or involved in creating or implementing programs through a joint committee or other means? What about consultations with employees? Are there any potential drawbacks to joint strategies?
  • Are there any common stumbling blocks that could cause wellness measures to potentially run afoul of human rights legislation or collective agreement provisions? Is it discriminatory for employers to withhold a reward or bonus from employees who cannot participate in a program or meet an objective, such as an employee with limited mobility who cannot participate in a workout challenge or meet a fitness goal? Are employers required to accommodate employees who cannot participate? Would an employee be able to grieve or otherwise challenge the denial of a wellness incentive such as a contribution toward gym fees or the ability to use flex time or bank overtime?
  • Could wellness initiatives complement an attendance management program (AMP) — for instance, by providing education and supports — or do AMPs create stress that is incompatible with the wellness approach? Can employees in AMPs be required or “strongly encouraged” to participate in wellness programs? Can penalties be imposed on those who opt out? Can employers restrict workers on AMPs from participating in wellness initiatives such as flexible work schedules, overtime banking, and remote work arrangements?