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Can an employer require a disabled employee to take a fitness for duty evaluation?


The ADA prohibits an employer from requesting a medical examination simply because of a known disability.  A medical examination is a procedure or test that seeks information about an individual’s physical or mental impairments or health.  A fitness for duty evaluation generally will be considered a medical examination subject to the ADA’s prohibition.  Under the right circumstances, an employer may require a disabled individual to undergo a fitness for duty evaluation.

At the hiring stage, an employer may require a fitness for duty evaluation only after a conditional offer of employment has been made.   In doing so, the employer must apply the examination requirement uniformly to all applicants in the same job category.   If the fitness for duty evaluation reveals that an applicant may have difficulty performing an essential job function, an employer cannot automatically retract the offer of employment.  The employer must consider if a reasonable accommodation would allow the employee to perform the essential job function satisfactorily.

After employed, an employer can require a disabled employee to undergo a fitness for duty evaluation only if the examination is job-related and consistent with business necessity.  To be job-related, the employer must have a reasonable belief based on objective evidence that the employee’s ability to perform essential job functions will be impaired by a medical condition or that the employee will pose a direct threat due to a medical condition.  For example, if a production line employee who has a known disability has been observed asleep on the job several times, an employer likely has a reasonable belief that the employee’s ability to perform the job functions may be impaired by a medical condition.   Medical examinations are frequently requested after an employee has been out on a medical leave of absence and the employee is ready to return to work.  However, an employer must be careful that a request for examination is not viewed as a fishing expedition.  The employer must have a reasonable basis for requesting the evaluation and limit the evaluation and scope of inquiry to what is necessary to make an assessment about the ability to work.

The medical information the employer receives as part of a fitness for duty evaluation must be limited to the medical condition at issue.  A request that an employee sign a general release for medical records will likely be considered discriminatory.  The request must be tailored to the reasonable basis for the examination.  If an employer uses a third party to handle the fitness for duty evaluations, the employer is responsible for assuring that the third party is handling the evaluations and requests for information in a non-discriminatory fashion.  All medical information must be kept confidential but may be disclosed to managers and supervisors on a need to know basis only. 

In conclusion, an employer can require a disabled individual to submit to a fitness for duty evaluation as long as the request fits within the parameters of the ADA requirements.