EEOC Continues its Wellness Program Attack; Honeywell Responds

On October 27, 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a petition in federal court to request a temporary restraining order to stop Honeywell International Inc. (Honeywell) from providing incentives as part of its employee wellness program. The EEOC’s petition alleged that Honeywell’s wellness program violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The Honeywell wellness plan includes various financial incentives, including contributions to a Health Savings Account, if participants choose to take a biometric screening. The EEOC stated that this incentive meant that the exams were not voluntary as required by the ADA and that it represented a penalty used by the employer to obtain medical information and thus ran afoul of GINA.

Two days after the EEOC’s petition was filed, Honeywell issued a press release stating that the Chicago EEOC office was “woefully out of step with the health care marketplace and with the core intent of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).” Honeywell further stated that it “provide[d] employees with the opportunity to lead healthier lifestyles” and that it was “disappointed that the EEOC would take a position that [was] so contrary to a fundamental component of the President’s health care plan, legislation passed by Congress, and the desire of all Americans to lead healthier lives.” The press release cited the fact that the wellness program incentives were in compliance with the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and ACA as evidence that they are otherwise federally sanctioned.

Judge Ann Montgomery of the federal district court in Minnesota issued a decision on November 3, 2014 refusing to grant the EEOC’s petition, but stating that the case raises “intriguing legal questions that relate to important public interest considerations.” The answers to these legal questions may be forthcoming as courts decide the three pending EEOC lawsuits regarding wellness programs, but in the meantime, employers remain uncertain as to whether their wellness programs (even those in compliance with HIPAA and ACA) will survive EEOC scrutiny.