A growing number of New Jersey companies are offering wellness programs, designed to help workers lose weight, lower cholesterol and become healthier. Most of the time, these programs are a "soft sell" but sometimes they're not.

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According to Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute in Princeton, under  the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 known as HIPAA, your boss can fine up to 30 percent of the cost of providing medical care for not signing up for the wellness program, so "your boss can't officially make it mandatory, but in effect they can."

He said this means if your company "is paying $7,000 a year for each individual's health care cost on the average, they can charge you up to $2,100 if you don't go along with the wellness program."

Maltby also said there may be a conflict with this statute under policies put forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but for now the issue remains clouded and unresolved.

"It appears that most employers are trying to sell the program on its own merits, which they should," Maltby said.

Maltby said everybody wants to be healthier and "if your boss can help encourage that, it's great, but the place employers get into problems are if they think they have to get everybody in the plan."

"There's always going to be some employees who don't want to go along with any program and employers should just let those folks go their own way instead of turning up the pressure to get the last few people in line," he said.

He suggested employers don't need 100 percent participation. If 90 percent of employees sign up for the wellness program, "you get 90 percent of the savings and that's good enough."

He also said what's really unfair is what your boss can charge you for not participating in the wellness program doesn't have to bear any relation to the medical cost you create by your unhealthy behavior.

"If your high cholesterol from eating too many cheeseburgers costs the company $200 a year in extra medical costs," he said, "it's not totally unfair for you to have to pay it, but it's not fair to charge you $2,000."