Thursday, October 30, 2014

EEOC files historic lawsuit challenging biometric testing by employers

It’s no secret that health insurance costs are out of control. To help combat this surge, many employers have turned to biometric testing for their employees. Biometric testing is part of corporate wellness programs where employees measure certain levels, such as blood pressure and cholesterol, for breaks on insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act.

If the Affordable Care Act expressly permits this testing, then why is the EEOC claiming that Honeywell’s biometric testing program violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act?

On Monday, the EEOC filed a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order declaring Honeywell’s biometric testing illegal. According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, ­Honeywell’s program creates up to $4,000 in penalties for employees unless they and their spouses take blood and medical tests that can identify smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and other health problems. The Minneapolis Star Tribune quotes an EEOC attorney, who said, “Honeywell’s tests and threatened penalties go too far because they are not job-related and are not consistent with any business necessity…. They can only do that in ­situations where it’s ­voluntary for the employee to answer.”

For its part, Honeywell has called the lawsuit “frivolous”

The Chicago EEOC office is unfamiliar with the details of our wellness programs and woefully out of step with the healthcare marketplace…. The incentives we provide are specifically sanctioned by two separate Federal statutes—HIPAA and the ACA. Honeywell’s wellness plan incentives are in strict compliance with both HIPAA and the ACA’s guidelines, which were designed by Congress to encourage healthier lifestyles while helping to control healthcare costs. No Honeywell employee has ever been denied healthcare coverage or disciplined in any way as a result of their voluntary decision not to participate in our wellness programs…. We’re proud to provide employees with the opportunity to lead healthier lifestyles and are disappointed that the EEOC would take a position that is 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.

Because the EEOC is seeking a TRO, I would expect this case to unfold quickly. I will keep everyone updated as this important story develops. Special thanks to Kate Bischoff for brining this to my attention.

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