Q. An employee of ours accused a co-worker of threatening him with physical harm. When we confronted the accused employee, he attributed the behavior to his psychological disorder and to a recent change in his prescription. We would like to verify the employee’s claims. Are we permitted to ask the employee for medical certification of his disability and a doctor’s statement regarding his prescribed medications?
A. The issue of when and how much medication information to which employers are entitled is complicated. Under the ADA, employers may request medication information from employees or order a medical examination when it is job-related and consistent with business necessity. According to the EEOC, this generally means that the employer must have a reasonable belief based on objective evidence that an employee is unable to perform an essential function or will pose a “direct threat” because of a medical condition.
The scope and manner of a medical inquiry or of an examination must be limited to information necessary to determine whether the employee is able to perform the essential functions of the job or can work without posing a direct threat. Employers are required to keep confidential all medical information they obtain. (So, make sure to not commingle an employee’s medical data with other employment and personnel records.) Moreover, employers can disclose such medical information in very limited circumstances to supervisors, first-aid personnel, and government officials investigating compliance with the ADA.
Before attempting to obtain medical information, employers must have objective evidence that a medical reason is a likely cause of a problem. According to the EEOC, the nature of an employee’sor unacceptable conduct may provide such objective evidence. One 11th Circuit Court of Appeals case held that an employee’s belligerent behavior, threats and acts of insubordination justified the employer’s request for a medical examination.