Employers can subject their employees to medical examinations if the reason they are doing so is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” In general, this means the employer, based on objective evidence, knows about a particular employee's medical condition, has observed performance problems, and can reasonably attribute the problems to the medical condition. Sometimes, the employer has been given reliable information by a credible third-party that an employee has a medical condition or the employer has observed symptoms that indicate the person may have a medical condition that will impair the ability to do essential functions or will pose a direct threat. When a forklift driver with an excellent 10-year work record, suddenly crashes into a wall of stacked pallets, narrowly missing a co-worker, the employer has a reasonable belief that the employee may pose a direct threat to workplace safety and can justifiably send him for a medical examination to determine if he is fit to perform his job. The employer provides the doctor with a description of the job to help ensure an accurate determination. This examination would be considered job-related and consistent with business necessity.
When medical examinations or disability-related inquiries are not job-related and consistent with business necessity, they are prohibited by the ADA. Exceptions to this prohibition exist for "voluntary wellness programs" and "bona fide benefit plans" that are based on underwriting risks, clarifying risks or administering risks.
A federal district court for the Southern District of Florida ruled that a wellness program requiring employees to complete a health risk assessment and a finger-stick blood test or pay a $20-per-pay period penalty was permissible under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Because the district court relied on the ADA exception for bona fide benefit plans, it avoided reviewing whether the wellness program would be considered "voluntary" under the ADA. The EEOC has questioned whether a wellness program that imposes a penalty for failing to participate would be truly "voluntary" and it remains to be seen whether the EEOC or other courts will find the rationale in the Florida case persuasive for upholding other wellness programs with penalties for nonparticipation.
This information should not be construed as “legal advice” for a particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended only to be a practical guide for participants familiar with this subject. Users should seek appropriate legal advice tailored to address their specific situation.