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Beware the Tax Traps of Wellness Programs (CFO)

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There are rules prohibiting employers from discriminating beyond the ones based on age, disability, genetic information and health factors. Wellness programs have their own share of rules. An employer can’t impose a premium surcharge on employees who smoke because the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act has nondiscrimination rules against imposing different co-pays, deductibles, etc. because nicotine addiction is considered a medical condition. To satisfy HIPAA, the surcharge cannot exceed the cost of the employee-only coverage by more than 20%. Providing gift cards to employees who complete smoking cessation programs is subject to payroll taxes. Design and implementation of a wellness program itself might have tax-law implications. Failure to comply with relevant tax codes can be costly, and failure to reward employees in a tax-favored manner could lower morale.