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Medical exams: When can you require them?

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in Discrimination and Harassment,FMLA Guidelines,HR Management

You may have heard that employers aren’t permitted to force employees to submit to medical exams because they could reveal a disability. And courts often see impromptu medical exams as thinly veiled attempts to push employees out the door.

While pre-employment, pre-job-offer medical exams are barred, there are times when medical exams for existing employees are fine.

The EEOC says you can require medical exams or make disability-related inquiries, “when a need arises to question the ability of an employee to do the essential functions of his/her job or to question whether the employee can do the job without posing a direct threat due to a medical condition.”

In such cases, the EEOC requires that the medical exam or inquiry be “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

Recent case: Caroline Parker was a successful research analyst at a Texas company until she lost 80 pounds and began exhibiting odd behavior. It turned out she was suffering from anorexia.

Parker took 12 weeks of FMLA leave for treatment and returned to work. But the behavior didn’t stop. She experienced two panic attacks while driving on company business and went to the hospital. Later, Parker vomited on a hotel mattress and had to pay for its replacement. Finally, the company president found Parker in her office on the floor, vomiting into a trash can.

HR insisted Parker undergo a medical exam and treatment.

Parker quit and sued for disability discrimination. She argued that the request for a medical exam was illegal.

The court disagreed. It said the request was consistent with business necessity and job-related since the panic attacks and vomiting all occurred at work and were affecting her performance. (Parker v. Pulte Homes, No. 09-2743, SD TX, 2011)

Online resource: Read the EEOC’s fact sheet, Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Examinations of Employees under the ADA, at www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/guidance-inquiries.html.

 

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