With 90% of states allowing recreation centers to reopen, including gyms, health and wellness programs will be an essential tool for for stress management and employee retention.
What are wellness benefits?
- Health and wellness programs often fall under the auspices of specialty accounts and can be purposed for a variety of expenses, from tuition reimbursements to office supplies. One of the more recently popularized uses for these programs has been gym memberships. Depending on how the benefit is set up, the program can also cover:
- online workout class fees
- courses aimed at healthy living
- stress reduction programs
Here are three specific ways health and wellness benefits can help as states reopen during COVID-19.
What health and wellness programs cover
When it comes to the gym, a wellness benefit will probably cover many costs. This includes associated costs, such as gym memberships, or even home equipment. However, certain items that have a more generic use might not be reimbursed. This could include water bottles, towels, wrist supports and exercise clothes.
Additionally, depending on the program, membership fees for courses focused on healthy living, such as weight loss or smoking cessation programs, could also be considered reimbursable. Finally, health and wellness programs may cover virtual workout registration fees.
That being said, how high is the bar for what kind of online class is reimbursable? An hour-long zumba session? Yoga for 20 minutes? A group workout class? Given the variety available, employees need to be sensitive to what is allowable.
Generally, in order for a virtual class to be reimbursable, the de minimis award rule needs to be observed. Additionally, as long as the benefit is being claimed by employees post-tax, companies offering health and wellness benefits are less likely to run into trouble with the IRS.
Speaking of running into trouble, in recent months, the lines around fitness tracking devices being reimbursable has started to blur.
Wearables and fitness trackers
Historically, these devices have not been reimbursable but COVID-19 might change that. To provide some context, wearables started as a trend adopted by people interested in tracking their steps or heart rate. They were considered a “lifestyle” device.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, however, certain devices have been given permission to access and monitor more relevant health metrics, like EKG or blood-oxygen levels. This moves these devices from the “lifestyle” category to the “diagnostic” category.
While the future is uncertain, if wearable devices continue down the path being used by consumers to provide insights to doctors, it is increasingly likely they will be regarded as reimbursable items.
However, only one or two companies are offering wearables with such futuristic capabilities. As things currently stand, even with COVID-19 ushering in new tracking capabilities, it is likely wearables will stay on the “lifestyle” side of things for a while longer.
Taking steps in the right direction