ERIC Outraged over Latest Wellness Suit Brought by EEOC

October 29, 2014

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ERIC News Release

For Immediate Release:  October 29, 2014

Washington, D.C. -- On Monday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a memorandum in Federal District Court in Minnesota asking for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), alleging that wellness programs sponsored by Honeywell violated both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

“This is an outrageous development, and one that could potentially jeopardize not only the health of America’s workers, but also that of their spouses,” said Gretchen Young, ERIC Senior Vice President for Health Policy.    

The Claim:  According to the EEOC, Honeywell will require its employees and their spouses to undergo biometric testing as part of the company’s wellness program starting in 2015.  The biometric testing, part of a screening to help identify health risks, will include checks for blood pressure, HDL and total cholesterol, non-fasting glucose, body mass index (BMI), and waist circumference.  Blood will also be screened to determine whether the employee or spouse smokes tobacco.  Employees (and their spouses) who do not undergo the screening will be assessed a financial surcharge.

EEOC claims that Honeywell’s wellness program incentives violate the ADA because employees are penalized in order to induce them to go through medical examinations that are not job-related or consistent with business necessity.  Although there is an exception to this rule for “voluntary” health exams, the EEOC claims that these exams are not voluntary because Honeywell imposes a penalty on employees who decline to participate. 

EEOC also claims that Honeywell’s wellness programs violate GINA because the employee is penalized if the spouse does not complete the biometric testing.

ERIC’s Response:  On hearing that the EEOC brought this suit against Honeywell’s wellness program, Gretchen Young, ERIC’s Senior Vice President for Health Policy, made the following statement:

“Our primary concern is that it apparently is no longer enough for an employer-sponsored wellness plan to comply with the applicable requirements under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The EEOC has apparently decided that it will be playing by a different set of rules, with no forewarning to companies whatsoever.

“Even though large American companies have invested a huge amount of time, money, and manpower into making sure that their wellness programs comply with the ACA, now here comes the EEOC out of left field with a whole new set of rules and regulations to impose on these programs.  What happened to the old-fashioned American value of letting companies know what the rules are before you slap them with a suit?”

Ms. Young also criticized the EEOC’s claim that the Honeywell program violates GINA. 

“It is difficult to describe the absurdity of denying companies the ability to try to help American families, including a worker’s spouse, to help rein in their health risks.  It is hard to fathom that the EEOC claims that a company can’t provide an incentive to a worker’s spouse to complete a health risk screening because the spouse’s information is considered ‘genetic information’ with respect to the employee.” 

Workplace wellness programs have a central role to play in the nation’s efforts to improve the health of American workers, and they have proved effective in containing health costs, reducing disability claims, and improving workers’ productivity.  “These suits by the EEOC will undercut efforts by employers to create a healthier workplace, will put a damper on the future development of wellness programs, will deny employees and their spouses the opportunity to live healthier lives, and ultimately, if left unchecked, will lead to a sicker population,” Young further argued. 

ERIC has been working on this issue for the last several years, arguing that employers need further guidance from the EEOC concerning the incentives they can offer their workers to participate in wellness programs, clear rules explaining how the ADA applies to workplace wellness programs, and clarification of regulations interpreting GINA that provide conflicting guidance about the use of family medical history to identify employees (and their spouses) who would benefit from wellness programs.
 

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For more information or to schedule an interview, contact

Ted Godbout
Director, Communications
The ERISA Industry Committee
1400 L Street, NW, Suite 350
Washington, DC 20005
Phone:  202-627-1918
tgodbout@eric.org
www.eric.org

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The ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC) is a non-profit association committed to representing the advancement of the employee retirement, health, and compensation plans of America's largest employers.  ERIC's members provide benchmark retirement, health care coverage, compensation, and other economic security benefits directly to tens of millions of active and retired workers and their families.  ERIC has a strong interest in proposals affecting its members' ability to deliver those benefits, their cost and their effectiveness, as well as the role of those benefits in the American economy.