According to a recent Department of Labor (DOL) opinion letter, employers do not have to compensate employees for time spent participating in biometric screenings, wellness activities, and benefits fairs. The opinion letter, which was issued in response to a letter on behalf of an employer, states that these types of activities do not require compensation under the Fair Labor and Standards Act (FLSA) because they predominantly benefit employees by providing them direct financial benefits as well as enabling them to make more informed decisions about matters unrelated to their job. The opinion letter noted that the agency’s conclusion is the same regardless of whether the activities occur onsite or during regular working hours.
“Participation is wholly optional for the employee; the employer never requires it. The employer likewise does not require the employee to perform any job-related duties while he or she participates in the activities. Because the activities described […] predominantly benefit the employee, they do not constitute compensable work time under the FLSA.”
– Bryan Jarrett, DOL Acting Administrator
The letter requesting the opinion asked about the types of wellness activities an employer would provide that could potentially decrease workers’ monthly insurance premiums. The activities mentioned in the letter are listed below.
- Attending an in-person health education class and lecture, such as for nutrition or diabetes management
- Taking an employer-facilitated gym class or using the employer-provided gym
- Participating in telephonic health coaching and online health education classes through an outside vendor facilitated by the employer
- Participating in Weight Watchers
- Voluntarily engaging in a fitness activity, such as going to their personal gym, exercising outdoors, or participating in a Fitbit challenge
As has been the case with other wellness regulations, the term “voluntary” is critical in assessing how compensation (in terms of wages, in this case, or rewards/incentives) is handled. Since the DOL determined these activities are not required and are a benefit being offered to employees, they ruled that they were non-compensable.
Regulations aside, employers need to ask themselves why they are offering benefits in the first place. Do they believe that healthier employees will benefit the company as a whole? Do they believe that employee literacy on health benefits being offered is important? If so, not compensating employees (through wages or other means) will only lower the number of employees that use the benefits. As a result, companies accrue less of the gains that had them offering the benefits in the first place.