A federal district court in Florida has ruled an employer did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by charging employees an extra $20 in biweekly health insurance premiums if employees refused to fill out confidential online health risk assessments and take blood tests to measure their glucose and cholesterol levels Seff v. Broward County, No. 10-cv-61437-KMM.
The plaintiff in this case is made up of a class of present and former employees of Broward County, and they claimed the design of the wellness program violated the ADA. Under the ADA, employers cannot ordinarily require employees to undergo medical exams unless they are job-related or part of a voluntary wellness program. The plaintiff argued that by requiring employees to undergo a medical examination and making medical inquiries, Broward County’s wellness program was not voluntary.
Broward County countered that its actions were covered by the ADA’s safe harbor rules which allow bona fide benefit programs. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida agreed with the defendant, holding that the wellness program is part of the County’s overall group health plan and is “based on underwriting risks, classifying risks, or administering such risks” because the program’s ultimate goal is to maintain or lower health insurance premiums.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency charged with overseeing employer compliance with the ADA, has stated that employers may offer voluntary wellness programs, including health risk assessments, provided certain requirements are met. According to an EEOC Enforcement Guidance issued July 27, 2000, a wellness program is “voluntary” only if an employer neither requires participation nor penalizes employees who do not participate.
The Broward county decision did not review whether the $20 penalty imposed on employees rendered the wellness program involuntary, nor is the decision binding on the EEOC and other courts. Wellness programs will probably continue to raise ADA questions, particularly which features are necessary for such programs to qualify for the “voluntary wellness programs” exception or the “bona fide benefit plan” safe harbor provision.