County's wellness program falls under ADA safe harbor provision
Case name: Seff v. Broward County, No. 10-61437-CIV (S.D. Fla. 04/11/11).
Ruling: The U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida granted summary judgment to a county employer on a class action brought by workers who incurred a $20 charge for declining to participate in a health questionnaire and biometric screening as part of a wellness program.
What it means: In Florida, an employer's wellness program can fall within the Americans with Disabilities Act's safe harbor provision when it is designed to develop and administer present and future benefits plans using accepted principles of risk assessment.
As a means of addressing escalating health care costs, a county sought ways to improve the overall health of its workforce. The county adopted a wellness program that included a confidential health risk assessment and biometric screening. Personal information from the questionnaire and screening was not disclosed to the county. The county received aggregate data that it considered in creating future benefit plans. Workers who did not complete the questionnaire or screening incurred a $20 charge. A worker filed a class action complaint against the county, alleging that the county violated the ADA by requiring employees to undergo a medical examination and by making medical inquiries of its employees. The U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida granted summary judgment to the county, holding that the program fell under the safe harbor provision.
The safe harbor provision specifies that the ADA's prohibitions of medical examinations and inquiries do not restrict an "organization ... from establishing, sponsoring, observing, or administering the terms of a bona fide benefit plan that are based on underwriting risks, classifying risks, or administering such risks." The workers argued that the wellness program was not a term of the county health insurance program or independently a benefit plan because whether workers participated in the program did not dictate whether they were eligible to receive insurance benefits. The court disagreed, explaining that the insurer paid for and administered the program under its contract with the county and that the program was included on the county's benefits plan handout.
Additionally, the court reasoned that the program was based on underwriting, classifying, and administering risks because it was "designed to develop and administer present and future benefit plans using accepted principles of risk management." The court also reasoned that it was designed to mitigate risks by encouraging employees to improve their health as a way of reducing health care costs.
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June 16, 2011
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