Minnesota District Court Rejects EEOC’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction Against Honeywell’s Employee Wellness Program

On November 6, 2014, the United States District Court from Minnesota issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order in the case Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Honeywell International Inc denying the EEOC’s motion for an injunction blocking Honeywell from implementing its new employee wellness program. Honeywell’s program requires employees and their family members to undergo biometric screening to use company-subsidized health savings accounts or, if they do not undergo such screening, pay several surcharges. The company claims that its policy carries out the intent of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA,”) offering expanded access to health care for employees at reduced cost. But the Commission argues that these requirements violate both the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”), by punishing employees who do not submit to a blood draw and screening for e.g. blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, and nicotine levels.

The goal of Honeywell’s voluntary wellness program is to reduce the cost of employees’ health care by screening for medical problems and encouraging healthy lifestyle choices. The sticking point for the EEOC concerns penalties employees and their families would suffer if they choose not to take the biometric tests and participate in the program. For example, non-participants would lose up to $1500 in company contributions to their Health Savings Accounts, incur $500 surcharge added to their annual medical plan cost, as well as a $1000 ‘tobacco surcharge’ for choosing not to be tested (whether or not they smoke). Employees who choose not to participate stand to lose up to $4000 through surcharges and lost HAS contributions, the EEOC concludes.

On its website, the company defends the program’s inclusion of surcharges for non-participants: “we don’t think it’s fair to the employees who do work to lead healthier lifestyles to subsidize the healthcare premiums for those who do not.” They argue that employees, in addition to promoting their health, would save about $125 on their health coverage by participating in the program, and that they have safeguards to keep employees’ health information from being disclosed to the company.

So far the Court has only denied the Commission’s motion for an injunction against Honeywell. But it also acknowledged both the gravity and novelty of this case, noting that “…great uncertainty persists in regard to how the ACA, ADA and other federal statutes such as GINA are intended to interact…As a general matter, EEOC enforcement actions are designed to be in the public interest. At the same time, Honeywell’s wellness program–which aims to raise awareness of important health indicators among its employees without requiring specific behavior changes–appears to comply with the ACA’s surcharge limits while also supporting one of the primary goals of healthcare reform: reducing overall health care costs.”

The Court expressed some reservations about the EEOC’s claim that Honeywell’s program violates the law, but also acknowledged that this is an early stage of a potentially important and interesting case. “Should this matter proceed on the merits,” Judge Montgomery concludes, “the Court will have the opportunity to consider both parties’ arguments after the benefit of discovery in order to determine whether Honeywell’s wellness program violates the ADA and/or GINA.”

If you believe your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondisclosure Act have been violated by an employer, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.