Prepare to explain necessity of medical exams

Employers that require all employees to undergo medical exams either annually or following injury or illness may have a hard time justifying their policies under the ADA.

If an exam might reveal a disability, the employer must be prepared to explain why the exam was a business necessity.

Recent case: The union representing Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officers sued the agency over three mandatory medical exam policies.

The first policy required every officer to submit to a daylong medical exam once a year as a condition of employment. It involved a complete physical, including blood work, chest X-rays, urinalysis, vision and hearing tests, an electrocardiogram and, for men, a hernia exam. The exam also assessed mental health.

The second policy required all officers hurt on the job to submit to return-to-work exam.

The third policy required the same exam for anyone returning from more than a few days of sick leave.

The court looked at each policy separately. It concluded that there was no valid business rationale for the annual examinations that justified the potential invasion of privacy or forced revelation of ADA-covered disabilities that might occur. The policy was found to violate the ADA.

The third policy also wasn’t justified by a business necessity.

But the second policy did pass muster. That’s because the examinations were related to workers’ compensation coverage since the Port Authority essentially provided all medical services for injured workers. (Port Authority Police Benevolent Association v. Port Authority, SD NY, 2017)

Final note: If you have a broad requirement for medical exams, make sure you check with your attorney. He or she can help you craft a business-necessity justification or help you narrow the policy so it doesn’t violate the ADA.