EEOC sues company over wellness program for third time

14 Nov

Programs are only legal if they don't penalize non-participants.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently filed another lawsuit against wellness penalties, according to HR Morning. The basic issue is that the company Honeywell recently made a wellness program part of its company policy. Anyone who didn't participate faced a $500 surcharge to their health care premiums. There would be additional charges against people who refused to take part in wellness screenings, including spouses of employees.

This is an extreme example of a trend for having programs that unintentionally discriminate against people who cannot meet certain criteria for a wellness or insurance plan. For example, weight goals for wellness programs can cause issues. Those tasked with human resource planning must be sure to avoid discriminatory actions having to do with goals that incentive a behavior. The best way to circumvent a potential suit is to offer an alternative goal that can be done instead of the main goal. For example, instead of quitting smoking to receive a benefit, someone can join a smoking-cessation program to receive the same benefit.

What makes this suit different
The unique factor in this lawsuit is that the EEOC has now said that the policy violates the Genetic Information Nondiscrimation Act because it not only asks for employee test results, but for spouse test results as well. Furthermore, like other EEOC cases against wellness programs, the program violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because of the severe penalties.

These fees are what allegedly make the wellness program unlawful, according to Insurance Journal.

"We are not seeking to stop testing and not seeking to stop the assessment of the smoking surcharge," Laurie Vasicheck, an EEOC attorney, told the judge. "What they can't do is penalize employees who do not want to go through it."

The size of the fine ultimately makes the testing feel involuntary.

How the case is unfolding
According to Insurance Journal, Honeywell is continuing to practice its policy as is because the judge in the case, Ann Montgomery, wasn't prepared to make a preliminary determination. She argued that it would be easier to fine employees later if she decided the rules were legal, compared to taking back penalties if the program was found to be illegal. Honeywell defended its case, saying that it wasn't breaking the law.

"The incentives we provide are specifically sanctioned by two separate federal statutes," Honeywell lawyers said in court. "We don't believe it's fair to the employees who do work to lead healthier lifestyles to subsidize the healthcare premiums for those who do not."

This is the third such case brought by the EEOC against a wellness program.

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