Fitness-for-Duty Employee Exams

When may an employer require an employee take a fitness-for-duty exam?

Companies are responsible for making sure their workers are fit and able to do their jobs. Employers can tell if an employee is physically and mentally able to do their jobs by administering “fitness-for-duty” exams. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) strictly limits the conditions under which an employer may require an employee to undertake a fitness-for-duty examination. An employer breaches the ADA if they require a worker to take a medical exam to determine whether or not they are fit to perform their job duties without following the required guidelines.

When it comes to fitness-for-duty exams, employers can only request them if they are both job-related and compatible with business necessity. To be more precise, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance states that an employer may only require a worker to undertake a fitness-for-duty examination if they have a reasonable belief that the employee is incapable of performing the essential functions of their job or if they pose a harm to themselves or others because of their condition.

If neither of these conditions holds true, then your insistence that your employee undertake a fitness-for-duty examination amounts to disability discrimination and be in violation of the ADA.

By way of example, if a crane operator becomes light-headed, out of breath, and has to sit down abruptly; then an employer may demand a medical exam to determine if the employee is unfit to perform the job duties if the employer has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that the worker will pose a direct threat while working on the construction site.

The assessment should not be overly generalized, but rather focused on the specific job-related issue. Medical certification standards for interstate truck drivers, for instance, are mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation and hence may necessitate an examination under another federal statute or regulation. When it comes to operating heavy machinery, like forklifts, employers will sometimes mandate that their staff undergo routine checkups.

Although you have the legal right to require an employee to undergo a fitness-for-duty examination, you may only collect the minimum amount of data necessary to assess if the employee can perform the essential functions of their work without endangering themselves or others. It would be illegal to pry any farther into the employee’s medical history or handicap.

If an employee has a handicap protected by the ADA and reasonable accommodation in their current job is impossible, then the employer must consider leave and, as a last option, reassignment to a vacant position for which the person is qualified.

Examples of Objective Evidence

It’s important to take each case separately. Just because two workers have the same medical condition doesn’t guarantee that the medical condition will have the same effect on each of them.

  • An employee having trouble climbing ladders and sitting for long periods of time while at work could be considered objective evidence necessitating a fitness-for-duty check for a roofer with a cardiac issue. However, if another employee with a cardiac issue does not need to sit, or have trouble climbing ladders, then you cannot request an exam for that person.
  • After an employee made the comment, “If I had a gun, I wouldn’t be here by now.” The employer sent him home with a fitness-for-duty form to have his mental health provider fill out before he could return to work to determine whether or not he needed leave or other accommodations due to his suicidal ideation.
  • An employee who has to deliver a particular number of products each hour yet is frequently complaining of back discomfort.
  • An employee whose job role is designated to be forklift drivers who reveal they suffer from narcolepsy may also be subject to a fitness-for-duty evaluation.

Exceptions to the Standard Practice

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, as there are to most others. To begin, an employer has the right to request proof of a worker’s fitness for duty from their doctor when they return from a medical absence. However, even under this scenario, an employer can merely inquire about the employee’s condition that necessitated the leave of absence. Second, if an employee with a disability requests a reasonable accommodation, the employer has the right to request appropriate medical verification.

Get in touch with our experienced Florida employment lawyer at the Walsh Law Firm, LLC if you are concerned that your employer is not acting legally in requiring you to take a fitness-for-duty exam.