That's according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

As long as the wellness incentive programs are directed toward voluntary actions on the part of the individual, they are legal, Hancock says.

The ADA does not prohibit employers from implementing wellness programs geared toward good health and disease prevention for those with disabilities, but employers must provide a reasonable alternative accommodation for employees with disabilities so that all have the option of receiving equal benefits.

A matter of interpretation

Depending on where you're coming from and whether you're the employer or the employee, these wellness incentive programs could be considered a reward or a penalty.

"It is semantics," says Hancock.

He points out that there isn't much difference between a company saying, "If you do this you're going to pay less," and, "If you don’t do this you're going to pay more."

Still, he thinks the way it's being phrased right now is, "Here's what we want you to do. If you don't do that, you won't get reduced health care."

In a way, that's forcing, he notes.

"There's a penalty if you don't do it, and the penalty is that your healthcare stays where it is, and you don't have a chance to lower your contribution," explains Hancock.

But employers are legally in the clear as long as the programs are voluntary and meet HIPPA and the ADA.

Follow Mitch Strohm on Google+