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Court zaps EEOC wellness program action

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Honeywell International Inc. has won a small wellness program victory in a federal court, and benefits groups and benefits advisors are celebrating.

Honeywell wants to cut the employees’ share of health premiums for employees and spouses who go through biometric screenings. Honeywell also wants to impose a penalty on employees and spouses who use tobacco and fail to submit to testing for tobacco use.

The employees objected, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a suit on their behalf in a U.S. District Court in Minnesota. The EEOC was trying to get a preliminary injunction that would have kept Honeywell from implementing the program.

The EEOC said the program violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

See also: EEOC to take closer look at wellness incentives

The court denied the request for the preliminary injunction, saying the wellness program would not cause permanent harm to the participants.

The underlying case is still moving ahead.

James Klein, president of the American Benefits Council — a group for big employers and their benefits providers — hailed the ruling. ”Health screening is a way to get employees engaged in taking steps to improve their health and well-being,” Klein said in a statement.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) encourages use of wellness programs, and the EEOC legal action against Honeywell sends the wrong message about the programs, Klein said.

For employers, one challenge is that the EEOC is still working on regulations that will explain how employers should reconcile wellness programs with the ADA and GINA, Klein said.

“It is impossible for employers to abide by rules that do not exist,” Klein said.


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