Case name: Seff v. Broward County, Florida, No. 11-12217 (11th Cir. 08/20/12).
Ruling: The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a grant of summary judgment to a county on an employee's claim that a workplace wellness program violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
What it means: An employee wellness program that requires employees to undergo a biometric screening and to complete a questionnaire may fall within the safe harbor provision of the ADA if the program is a "term" of the employer's group health plan.
Summary: A county offered its employees a group health insurance plan. As part of the plan, employees were allowed to participate in a wellness program that consisted of a biometric screening for glucose and cholesterol and an online questionnaire. To increase participation in the program, the county imposed a $20 charge to those who refused to participate. An employee filed a class action under the ADA, alleging that the questionnaire violated the ADA's prohibition on nonvoluntary medical examinations and disability-related inquiries. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a grant of summary judgment to the county, agreeing with the District Court that the ADA's safe harbor provision for insurance plans exempted the county's wellness program from "any potentially relevant ADA prohibitions."
The safe harbor provision exempts certain insurance plans from the ADA's general prohibitions, including the prohibition on required medical examinations and disability-related inquiries. This provision states that the ADA does not prohibit an employer from establishing, sponsoring, observing, or administering the terms of a bona fide benefit plan.
The employee argued that the testimony of the county's benefits manager gave rise to a disputed material fact regarding the wellness program's status as a "term of a bona fide benefit plan." The court explained that the manager's legal opinion that the wellness program was not part of a bona fide benefit plan did not create a factual dispute precluding summary judgment.
The court also explained that no authority suggested that an employee wellness program must be explicitly identified in a benefit plan's written documents to qualify as a "term" of the plan. Evidence showed that the program was part of the county's contract, only available to group plan enrollees, and presented as part of the group plan in two employee handouts.
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November 26, 2012
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