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Judge allows Honeywell wellness penalties to stand during EEOC lawsuit

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A federal judge has rejected the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's request for an order temporarily barring Honeywell International Inc. from penalizing workers who refused to participate in its workplace wellness program.

Minnesota District Judge Ann Montgomery ruled Monday that Morristown, New Jersey-based Honeywell can proceed with plans to assess a $500 surcharge against employees at its facilities in Minnesota for nonparticipation in wellness-related biometric screenings beginning in 2015, pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the EEOC against the company in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis on Oct. 27.

The company also plans to withhold contributions to employees' tax-preferred health savings accounts worth up to $1,500 annually and assess an additional $1,000 tobacco surcharge against employees who refused to submit to the wellness screenings, which include tests for their blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol and body mass.

Similar penalties would also be assessed against employees' spouses enrolled in Honeywell's group health insurance plan if they refused to participate in the biometric tests, the EEOC claims in its lawsuit.

“Honeywell is pleased that the court ruled against the Chicago EEOC and their attempt to stop our wellness program from moving forward in 2015,” the company said in a statement emailed to Business Insurance on Monday. “Honeywell wants its employees to be well-informed about their health status not only because it promotes their well-being, but also because 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.”

Employer advocates heralded Judge Montgomery's ruling as “welcome relief for company sponsors of employee wellness programs.

“The District Court's denial of the EEOC's request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction relied on a finding that the program does not pose 'irreparable harm' to participants,” James Klein, president of the Washington-based American Benefits Council, said in a statement Monday. “In fact, quite the contrary is true. Health screening is a way to get employees engaged in taking steps to improve their health and well-being.”

The EEOC claims in its lawsuit that Honeywell's wellness program violates both the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act by effectively forcing employees and their spouses to submit to the health screenings.