At Honeywell, required biometric and medical testing prompt a lawsuit

A federal agency is suing Honeywell over new company rules that penalize employees who don't submit to biometric and medical testing.

The tests required by the company would measure blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, as well as check for evidence of smoking. Lawyers for the federal agency are asking the court to immediately order the company not to impose any costs on employees who don't take the tests.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suit filed this week in Minneapolis argues that Honeywell's new policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Agency lawyers argue that a company can ask employees to undergo voluntary testing, but it can't impose a penalty on those who decline.

"Honeywell's medical examinations are unlawful. The ADA prohibits employers from conducting medical examinations that are not job-related and consistent with business necessity," according to the suit.

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The agency also argues that Honeywell's policy of penalizing employees unless their spouses submit to testing violates the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

"GINA prohibits employers from offering inducements (or alternately imposing penalties) to employees to obtain medical information about an employee's family," according to the court filing.

The agency estimates the total cost to an employee who refuses to submit to the tests at up to $4,000.

That cost includes up to $2,500 in surcharges for an employee and spouse, including a $500 surcharge for not taking the tests and two $1,000 tobacco surcharges. Those who decline to go through biometric testing will also be denied a $1,500 company contribution to their health savings account.

Honeywell, in a statement posted on its website, said its plan is legal and fair, and cites compliance with the Affordable Care Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

"Honeywell wants its employees to be well informed about their health status not only because it promotes their well being, but also because we don't believe it's fair to the employees who do work to lead healthier lifestyles to subsidize the health care premiums for those who do not," Honeywell representatives wrote in the statement.

The company holds that no employee has ever been disciplined or denied coverage for choosing not to participate in the testing programs. They say that 60 percent of Honeywell employees in the biometric testing program have reduced at least one health risk.

The lawsuit was brought after complaints from two Honeywell employees about the new benefits program. One employee has already gone through the biometric testing and the other is scheduled to be tested.

Honeywell is currently based in Morristown, New Jersey, but was founded in Minneapolis and maintains a strong presence in the state.

A court hearing on the case is scheduled for Nov. 3 at the United States District Court in Minneapolis.