Industry lauds EEOC court decision, wellness battle continues

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In a decision that’s being hailed as a victory for employer-sponsored wellness programs, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota yesterday denied the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Honeywell International Inc.

The EEOC claims the company’s wellness program violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act by imposing penalties on employees who decline to participate in the company’s biometric screening program.

Also see: Newest EEOC wellness program lawsuit draws further industry ire

The American Benefits Council praised the court’s decision, calling it “welcome relief for company sponsors of employee wellness programs.”

“Unfortunately, the EEOC decided to pursue litigation before issuing guidance on this matter,” says 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. It is impossible for employers to abide by rules that do not exist.”

The EEOC’s recent actions around wellness programs have created uncertainty for employers, says Mike Thompson, a principal with PricewaterhouseCoopers. “The sooner this gets clarified the better and, in many ways, I think many are assuming that ultimately the existing guidance will prevail,” he says. “But the longer this shadow overhangs, the more the uncertainty in the market. More than anything, I think employers want clear guideposts in which to operate.”

Also see: Have wellness incentives gone too far?

Since August, the EEOC has filed suit against three companies over their employer-sponsored wellness programs: Orion Energy Systems, Flambeau, Inc. and Honeywell.

“Like many other Council member companies, Honeywell has devoted substantial time and resources to the development and implementation of these programs. The recent legal action by the EEOC, particularly in the absence of formal guidance on wellness programs from the commission, sends the wrong message,” says Klein.

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