MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Two Minnesota employees have filed complaints against Honeywell for its wellness program, and the federal government is suing to stop it.

Court documents filed this month say that Honeywell, as part of its 2015 health benefit plan, requires employees and their spouses to take blood and medical tests that check for smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and other problems. The employees were told about the new procedures in August, and they have until Nov. 14 to undergo testing.

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If employees opt out of the tests, according to the documents, they can lose up to $1,500 in Health Savings Account contributions, as well as face a $500 charge to their medical plan, or a $1,000 tobacco surcharge.

The tobacco surcharge can also be applied if an employee’s spouse does not undergo the testing.
The lawsuit, filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, says that an employee could theoretically see a penalty as high as $4,000 for not getting the tests.

The EEOC lawsuit came after two employees filed separate charges against the New Jersey-based company this month.

On the other hand, Honeywell says the tests encourage its employees to live healthier lifestyles, and in a press release, the company called the lawsuit “frivolous.”

“The incentives in our wellness programs are pro consumer and have delivered demonstrably better healthcare outcomes for employees and their families,” the release said.

The company said that employees with single coverage who voluntarily decide to take the tests see their monthly premiums drop by $125.

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Joe Daly, an Emeritus Professor at Hamline Law School, says the Honeywell plan raises some serious questions.

“How far can an employer go in term of checking things out? Is it my business that I have a propensity towards Alzheimer’s so they can check my blood?” Daly said.

Daly also says an incentive, like a free gym membership, is very different from a punishment or fine.

The EEOC has requested that Honeywell suspend the testing requirements while an investigation takes place. Honeywell has refused.

Honewell said their plan is sanctioned by both HIPPA and the Affordable Care Act, but Daly says the plan may violate other federal laws.

“The American with Disabilities Act says straight out an employer cannot enquire about my disabilities,” Daly said.

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A federal judge is expected to rule Monday on the EEOC’s request for an emergency injunction.

Esme Murphy