In a closely watched case, a federal appeals court in Atlanta has rejected a challenge to a wellness plan maintained by Broward County, Florida for its employees. The case was brought by a former employee, who claimed the wellness plan violated the ADA by improperly requiring employees to submit to medical examinations.
As background, the ADA generally prohibits employers from requiring employees to undergo medical examinations or otherwise inquire of employees whether they are disabled. But purely voluntary medical examinations are permitted (as are bona fide fitness-for-duty examinations), and the ADA expressly allows employers to establish, sponsor, observe, or administer the terms of a bona fide benefit plan when those terms are based on underwriting risks, classifying risks, or administering risks. This latter rule is sometimes referred to as an underwriting "safe harbor" under the ADA.
The wellness plan in this case was fairly typical. Employees participating in the plan were subject to a health-risk assessment and a biometric screening (a finger prick for cholesterol and glucose testing). Participation was not required, but employees who did not participate were charged an extra $20 per pay period for their health-insurance coverage.
The court concluded the plan qualified for the underwriting safe harbor under the ADA and so did not violate the ADA. The wellness program was deemed to be a "term" of a bona fide benefit plan (the employer's major-medical plan), even though there was no written document for the wellness program.
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