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Chapter VI: Medical Examinations And Inquiries

6.6 Employee Medical Examinations and Inquiries

The ADA's requirements concerning medical examinations and inquiries of employees are more stringent than those affecting applicants who are being evaluated for employment after a conditional job offer. In order for a medical examination or inquiry to be made of an employee, it must be job related and consistent with business necessity. The need for the examination may be triggered by some evidence of problems related to job performance or safety, or an examination may be necessary to determine whether individuals in physically demanding jobs continue to be fit for duty. In either case, the scope of the examination also must be job-related.

For example: An attorney could not be required to submit to a medical examination or inquiry just because her leg had been amputated. The essential functions of an attorney's job do not require use of both legs; therefore such an inquiry would not be job related. An employer may require a warehouse laborer, whose back impairment affects the ability to lift, to be examined by an orthopedist, but may not require this employee to submit to an HIV test where the test is not related to either the essential functions of his job or to his impairment.

Medical examinations or inquiries may be job related and necessary under several circumstances:

When an employee is having difficulty performing his or her job effectively.

In such cases, a medical examination may be necessary to determine if s/he can perform essential job functions with or without an accommodation.

For example: If an employee falls asleep on the job, has excessive absenteeism, or exhibits other performance problems, an examination may be needed to determine if the problem is caused by an underlying medical condition, and whether medical treatment is needed. If the examination reveals an impairment that is a disability under the ADA, the employer must consider possible reasonable accommodations. If the impairment is not a disability, the employer is not required to make an accommodation.

For example: An employee may complain of headaches caused by noise at the worksite. A medical examination may indicate that there is no medically discernible mental or physiological disorder causing the headaches. This employee would not be "an individual with a disability" under the ADA, and the employer would have no obligation to provide an accommodation. The employer may voluntarily take steps to improve the noise situation, particularly if other employees also suffer from noise, but would have no obligation to do so under the ADA.

When An Employee Becomes Disabled

An employee who is injured on or off the job, who becomes ill, or suffers any other condition that meets the ADA definition of "disability," is protected by the Act if s/he can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.

Employers are accustomed to dealing with injured workers through the workers' compensation process and disability management programs, but they have different, although not necessarily conflicting obligations under the ADA. The relationship between ADA, workers' compensation requirements and medical examinations and inquiries is discussed in Chapter IX .

Under the ADA, medical information or medical examinations may be required when an employee suffers an injury on the job. Such an examination or inquiry also may be required when an employee wishes to return to work after an injury or illness, if it is job-related and consistent with business necessity:

Examination Necessary for Reasonable Accommodation

A medical examination may be required if an employee requests an accommodation on the basis of disability. An accommodation may be needed in an employee's existing job, or if the employee is being transferred or promoted to a different job. Medical information may be needed to determine if the employee has a disability covered by the ADA and is entitled to an accommodation, and if so, to help identify an effective accommodation.

Medical inquiries related to an employee's disability and functional limitations may include consultations with knowledgeable professional sources, such as occupational and physical therapists, rehabilitation specialists, and organizations with expertise in adaptations for specific disabilities.

Medical examinations, screening and monitoring required by other laws.

Employers may conduct periodic examinations and other medical screening and monitoring required by federal, state or local laws. As indicated in Chapter IV , the ADA recognizes that an action taken to comply with another Federal law is job-related and consistent with business necessity; however, requirements of state and local laws do not necessarily meet this standard unless they are consistent with the ADA.

For example: Employers may conduct medical examinations and medical monitoring required by:

However, if a state or local law required that employees in a particular job be periodically tested for AIDS or the HIV virus, the ADA would prohibit such an examination unless an employer can show that it is job-related and consistent with business necessity, or required to avoid a direct threat to health or safety. (See Chapter IV .)

Voluntary "Wellness" and Health Screening Programs

An employer may conduct voluntary medical examinations and inquiries as part of an employee health program (such as medical screening for high blood pressure, weight control, and cancer detection), providing that:

Information from Medical Inquiries May Not be Used to Discriminate

An employer may not use information obtained from an employee medical examination or inquiry to discriminate against the employee in any employment practice. (See Chapter VII .)


All information obtained from employee medical examinations and inquiries must be maintained and used in accordance with ADA confidentiality requirements. (See 6.5 above.)