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Health policy of major Minnesota employer challenged in federal court

While most people might not realize it, a fascinating employment law case is currently playing out here in Minnesota that may serve to define the extent to which employers can shift health care cost to their employees based on the results of behavior-based testing.

The case in question involves Honeywell, which was originally founded in Minneapolis and remains one of the Twin Cities’ larger employers. The company has recently instituted a new health screening policy mandating that all employees and their spouses must submit to extensive biometric testing that measures blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol, and which also detects signs of smoking.

The controversial new health screening policy came to the attention of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed a lawsuit seeking a temporary injunction to effectively shut down the testing on behalf of two Honeywell employees. 

According to the EEOC complaint, Honeywell’s health screening policy violates both the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act and the American with Disabilities Act. Furthermore, the agency argues that those employees and spouses who refuse to participate can face up to $4,000 in penalties and increased health costs, and that the health screening policy itself fails to support any business-related necessity.

“The thing that is important about these cases is not that they are wellness or health programs, but that the company is requiring testing and asking disability questions when it’s not job-related,” said one EEOC attorney. “They can only do that in situations where it’s voluntary for the employee to answer.”

For its part, Honeywell defends the health screening policy as being in strict compliance with both the Affordable Care Act and HIPPA. It also argues that the policy helps lower costs for all parties while furthering wellness among employees.

In recent developments, it appears Honeywell is free to proceed with its health screening policy for the time being, as a federal judge in Minneapolis denied the EEOC’s request for the temporary injunction earlier this week.

It will be very interesting to see how this matter plays out in coming months. Stay tuned for developments.

Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional if you have questions or concerns about wage and hour laws, discrimination or any other employee rights matter.

Sources: Insurance Journal, “Judge: Honeywell may penalize Minnesota workers who refuse health tests,” Nov. 5, 2014; Fox Business, “EEOC sues Honeywell on behalf of 2 Minnesota employees who object to health screening policy,” Oct. 29, 2014

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