Honeywell International can continue, for now, to impose penalties on employees who refuse to undergo biometric testing as part of its wellness program, a U.S. District Court judge in Minneapolis decided Monday.
The judge has denied the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Honeywell International that would have required it to temporarily stop imposing penalties on employees who refuse the testing. The EEOC had alleged that the testing violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act by financially penalizing employees who balked at the testing.
Honeywell officials released a statement saying they're pleased the company's wellness program can continue to move forward in 2015.
“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,” according to the statement. “Biometric information—which is never seen by Honeywell or Honeywell personnel—helps all employees make better decisions and we're proud to provide our employees with the opportunity to lead healthier lifestyles.”
The EEOC also released a statement saying only, “We respect the court's decision. We will continue to do our statutorily prescribed duty to investigate the charges that have been filed with us.”
The biometric testing checks employees' cholesterol levels, blood pressure, glucose, height, weight and waist circumference, as well as testing for nicotine or cotinine, according to the EEOC's petition. Employees who refuse the screenings can face up to $4,000 in surcharges and lose company health savings account contributions, according to the petition.
Honeywell, however, had said in an earlier statement that no employee has ever been denied coverage or disciplined for deciding not to participate in the wellness program. Employees who take part in the biometric testing have their monthly premiums reduced by $125, according to the statement.
The head of the American Benefits Council also cheered the decision Monday, saying the EEOC's action sent the wrong message to companies, especially in the absence of formal guidance on wellness programs from the commission. The EEOC shouldn't have pursued litigation before issuing formal guidance addressing such programs, said James A. Klein, president of the American Benefits Council.
“This is very frustrating for employers who care about the well-being of their employees and take seriously their compliance obligations,” Klein said in a statement. “It is impossible for employers to abide by rules that do not exist.”
Honeywell is based in New Jersey but was formerly headquartered in Minneapolis and still has a large workforce there. The suit relates to a program in Minneapolis.
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