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Federal Court Rejects EEOC Suit Challenging Employee Wellness Plan

    Client Alerts
  • January 11, 2016
Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed several high profile lawsuits claiming that employer group medical insurance plans violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by imposing certain mandatory employee wellness terms. Last month, a federal district court in Wisconsin rejected the latest of these lawsuits, concluding that the employer’s wellness program fell within an ADA safe harbor provision.

In EEOC v. Flambeau, Inc., the agency challenged provisions of the wellness program that required employees to undergo a health risk assessment and biometric screening as a condition of participation in the self-insured group medical plan. The EEOC contended that this mandate violates the ADA’s requirement that any employee medical examination be conducted only in cases of business necessity, and that it imposes excessive penalties for non-compliance. The employer pointed to a different section of the ADA that exempts bona fide wellness plans from ADA coverage.

The district court judge agreed with the employer, granting it summary judgment. The court adopted the Eleventh Circuit’s reasoning in a 2012 case, concluding that the wellness safe harbor provision overcomes the more general ban on certain employee medical examinations. That reasoning applies here, even though the Eleventh Circuit case dealt with a policy that only penalized employees $20 per pay period, instead of entirely excluding them from the medical plan. The court noted that the employer was not provided with any of the individual medical information gathered, only aggregate statistics.

This decision indicates federal courts’ unwillingness to tie employers’ hands with respect to wellness programs intended to improve general employee health and to keep plan costs under control. The EEOC is working on regulations intended to define when such wellness plan provisions become unacceptable penalties. Those rules and the general limits of employer wellness program provisions will continue to be a fertile source of litigation in upcoming years.