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Require medical exams if they’re job-related

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in Discrimination and Harassment,FMLA Guidelines,HR Management

You may have read that employers aren’t permitted to force employees to take medical exams because they could reveal a disability. While pre-employment, pre-job-offer medical exams are barred, there are times when medical exams are fine.

The key is whether the exams are job-related and consistent with business necessity.

Recent case: Caroline Parker was a successful market research analyst—until she lost 80 pounds and began exhibiting odd behavior. It turned out she had anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder marked by eating very little, or sometimes by binging and vomiting.

Parker took 12 weeks of FMLA leave for treatment and then returned to work. Then, she disappeared for four hours during a company-sponsored golf outing. It turned out she had to ask a golf cart driver to pull over so she could vomit. She spent the rest of the day in the bathroom.

That incident was followed by two panic attacks while driving on company business. Each time, paramedics had to take her to a hospital for treatment. 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. That’s when HR got involved and insisted she either undergo a medical exam and treatment or accept a performance improvement plan. It conditioned her leave on returning with a doctor’s clearance.

Parker didn’t return to work. Instead, she quit and sued for disability discrimination. She argued that the request for a medical exam was illegal.

The court disagreed. It noted that 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)

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