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EEOC Sues Honeywell for Biometric Screening Requirement in Wellness Plan

    Client Alerts
  • October 31, 2014

Last month’s EmployNews reported on two new lawsuits filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission challenging alleged excessive financial penalties included in employer-sponsored wellness plans. On Monday, the EEOC filed an additional suit against Honeywell claiming that biometric screening requirements contained in its wellness plan similarly violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

The EEOC alleges that the Honeywell program imposes up to $4000 in annual penalties if employees and their spouses refuse blood and medical tests intended to detect smoking, high blood pressure and other medical risk factors. These penalties include potential loss of health savings account subsidies, and medical premium surcharges for smoking and other behaviors. The EEOC requested a preliminary injunction to stop the testing program, contending that it violates the medical testing and antidiscrimination provisions of the ADA and GINA.

In a press release, Honeywell contends that the biometric screening is specifically sanctioned under the Affordable Care Act and HIPAA. The company stressed the confidentiality of the testing results, and the fact that employees are not denied coverage or retaliated against for refusing to participate in the screening program. Honeywell justified the screening as a way to provide employees information about potentially life threatening medical issues.

As with the prior suits, the ultimate legal decision may be based on a judgment of how punitive the employer can be with regard to expenses assessed against employees who refuse to participate in the wellness program, or who exhibit behaviors that contribute to healthcare costs. This litigation directly results from the EEOC’s failure to date to provide employers with clear guidelines as to when legitimate wellness programs cross into punishment, or when medical screenings become prohibited inquiries. When combined with employers’ desperation to manage healthcare costs, this lack of guidance will likely spur additional litigation.