Employers trying to lower employee health care costs received a boost recently when a federal appeals court ruled that corporate approaches to wellness and disease management did not violate part of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Specifically, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld a federal district court ruling that a wellness program instituted by Broward County, Florida, did not violate the general prohibition under the ADA against non-voluntary medical examinations and inquiries that are not job-related.

Broward County offered the wellness program as part of its open-enrollment process. The plan had both a health questionnaire and a biometric screening. Information gathered was used to identify employees with asthma, hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease. Employees were then offered a disease management coaching program, which could result in participants being offered free medication. Employees who failed to complete the assessment were required to pay an additional $20 per paycheck for coverage.

A former employee brought a class action claim under the ADA, alleging that the program violated the law’s prohibition on non-voluntary medical exams.

According to Brian M. Pinheiro, who leads Ballard Spahr’s Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation Group, the court’s decision clearly suggests that, at least in some circumstances, a non-voluntary wellness program can be offered without running afoul of the ADA.

“It is significant and the first case of this kind at the appellate level,” Mr. Pinheiro said. “The court said that if you have your wellness program as part of your standard health program, you can fit this under a new exception that does not violate the ADA and doesn’t require voluntariness.”