Orion Energy Systems’ health plan included a wellness program. Participation in the wellness program was identified as voluntary. Participating employees had to submit to a health risk assessment, which entailed filling out a health history questionnaire, undergoing a biometric screening and a blood draw. Employees who completed the above health risk assessment and a health screen did not have to pay monthly premiums for their health insurance. Orion would cover that cost. However, employees who did not submit to above requirements had to pay 100% of their health insurance coverage.
One employee objected to the health risk assessment requirements. She was fired just three weeks after opting out, purportedly for non-discriminatory and legitimate reasons. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit on her behalf, asserting that the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) prevented employers from requiring medical examinations or making medical inquiries that could involve possible disabilities. The ADA does allow for voluntary medical examinations that are a part of employer’s on-site health programs.
A federal trial court ruled in part for the employer and in part for the EEOC. It rejected Orion’s argument that ADA’s “safe harbor” provision protected wellness plans from ADA scrutiny. The “safe harbor” provision allows employers to gather medical information for the purpose of making insurance decisions. The wellness program did not fall within this section because its purpose was not to consider insurance risks. In its recent guidance, the EEOC stated that wellness programs do not fall within “safe harbor” and this court granted deference to the EEOC’s interpretation. On the other hand, the court did find that the program was voluntary, even if there was great expense in not participating. As such, it was lawful under the ADA. This case is at odds with another district court case in Wisconsin.