The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) considers that employers may request fitness-for-duty examinations under limited circumstances. The legality of such exam requests sometimes can be complicated.
Generally, the ADA requires Employers to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities unless doing so would impose an undue hardship. However, the ADA also permits employers to establish qualification standards that are job-related and consistent with business necessity. In some instances, a fitness-for-duty exam may be necessary to determine whether an employee can perform their job duties, with or without accommodations.
To require a fitness for duty examination, the employer must have a reasonable belief that (1) the employee’s ability to perform his or her essential job functions is impaired by a medical condition or (2) the employee poses a direct threat to safety of others due to a medical condition. The reasonable belief must be based on objective evidence, such as observations of the employee’s job performance or medical documentation. If properly supported, an Employee’s refusal to submit to a reasonable fitness for duty examination can be a basis for disciplinary action. However, if the request is not supported by objective evidence or overbroad in scope, an Employer’s termination of an employee based on an overreaching exam or refusal to submit to such an exam may lead to claims of ADA violations.
Under the ADA, a fitness-for-duty exam must be job-related and consistent with business necessity. In other words, the exam must be necessary to ensure that an employee remains capable of performing the essential functions of their job. The exam must be tailored to the employee’s specific job duties and cannot be overly broad or intrusive.
A fitness for duty exam also should not be abused as a means of discovery into an Employees entire medical history, especially if unrelated to the asserted impairment. The EEOC takes the position that an Employer’s request for medical records must be narrowly tailored to an employee’s job requirements. An overbroad release for medical records or a questionnaire seeking a detailed medical history could be improper, as it might allow the Employer to inquire about unrelated medical conditions or genetic information in violation of the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act.
In some limited circumstances, however, a fitness for duty exam may be required without having to articulate evidence of impairment or threat. For example, Employees out of work on worker’s compensation or FMLA leave may be required to submit a fitness for duty certification to return to work. Also, an employee requesting accommodation under the ADA may have to provide medical documentation to substantiate the medical condition requiring accommodation.