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Jul 01, 2019

Employers need objective basis to require fitness-for-duty exam

DisabilityHarassment & DiscriminationSafety and Health 

A federal district court recently ruled that a police department complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it required a bomb squad technician to undergo a fitness-for-duty exam. Their justification? The city had an objective basis for the fitness-for-duty exam request.

In this case, the technician was experiencing hand tremors that may have caused him to spill a liquid chemical while working. The technician claimed that the city regarded him as disabled and discriminated against him by requiring a medical exam before he could resume full duty. The court ruled that the fitness-for-duty requirement was in response to the chemical spill, not because the city thought the technician was disabled.

The medical exam was directly related to the position because the technician’s job duties required him to delicately handle explosive and dangerous material. The court also said that the city had a valid concern for safety because a possible hand tremor could be deadly to the technician and those around him (Pickard v. City of Tucson, D Ariz, March 2019).
Tips: Unlike the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), requiring a fitness-for-duty exam under the ADA involves more than simply checking a box on a designation notice. Instead, companies must conduct an analysis based on the individual facts of each case.

Fitness-for-Duty Exam Requisites

An employee can only be required to submit to a fitness-for-duty exam if the exam is related to the job and consistent with business necessity. The company must be able to present objective evidence supporting both factors in order to defeat a “regarded as” discrimination claim.

To avoid potential liability, always engage legal counsel before imposing a fitness-for-duty requirement under the ADA. For more information, see our Legal Guide, ADA: Post-Job-Offer Medical Exams and Model Form, Fitness for Duty Report.

If you’re a member and have questions about whether a fitness-for-duty exam is appropriate, reach out to your dedicated Vigilant employment law attorney. Not a member? Inquire about our membership services, and be sure to sign up for our employment law newsletter to stay on top of the ever-changing world of HR and employment law.

This website presents general information in nontechnical language. This information is not legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific management decision, consult legal counsel.