Honeywell sued over wellness program testing

Over the past several decades, the concept of wellness programs has blossomed across the corporate landscape. It's part of an effort to improve employee health while controlling healthcare costs and optimizing worker productivity.

According to a government study released last year these programs are meant to address concerns over so-called "lifestyle diseases" -- issues such as physical inactivity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, frequent alcohol consumption and other factors that are negatively affecting the health of American workers.

The government study notes these wellness programs often include screening, "to identify health risks and interventions to reduce risks and promote healthy lifestyles." And according to that study nearly three-fourths of employers offering a wellness program say their programs are a combination of screening activities and interventions.

However, in a suit filed this week in Minneapolis, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says a corporate wellness program run by Honeywell International (HON), goes too far, and runs afoul of federal law.

The EEOC claims Honeywell required its employees and their spouses to "submit to medical tests or risk being penalized up to $4,000" -- a move the commission says would violate both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

The testing required by Honeywell, according to an EEOC press release, involved "a blood draw, an analysis of the emp­loyees' health factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol, height, weight and waist measurements, body mass index, and a nicotine test."

Under the ADA, such medical testing is meant to be voluntary only. And GINA, meanwhile, bans employees from "offering inducements" to obtain family medical histories.

According to Reuters the lawsuit is the third such case filed by the commission since August, although Honeywell is the largest company so far to become involved in the issue.

For its part, Honeywell has called the EEOC lawsuit "frivolous," and says the incentives it provides under its wellness programs are in "strict compliance" with both the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

"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," the company stated on its website.

"Honeywell wants its employees to be well informed about their health status not only because it promotes their wellbeing," the statement continues, "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."

In the meantime, the EEOC is seeking a temporary restraining order to stop any further imposition of penalties by Honeywell. A court hearing on matter is reportedly scheduled for next week, at the United States District Court in Minneapolis.