ADA: Fitness test or illegal medical exam?

by on January 29, 2010 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Cafe
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A legitimate test of an employee’s physical fitness to perform job duties can all too easily turn into an illegal medical exam, an employer in Oregon recently found out.

One of the company’s employees had knee surgery. So, following its standard policy, the company directed the employee to undergo a physical capacity evaluation before she returned to work.

Laid off as incapable
The evaluation, done by an occupational therapist, showed that the worker wasn’t physically able to resume her old job. No other job was available so the employer laid her off — again, according to established policy.

The employee sued, claiming the employer violated the ADA by administering an illegal medical examination — and a federal appeals court agreed with her.

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Crossing the line
The employer’s occupational therapist didn’t cross the line from fitness test to medical exam when she had the employee walk on a treadmill for 20 minutes. But she did cross the line when she measured the employee’s heart rate after the test, and recorded an observation about her breathing and “poor aerobic fitness.”

EEOC guidance for employers on the ADA notes that fitness tests like running or lifting are all right as long as they don’t include “examinations that could be considered medical (e.g., measuring heart rate or blood pressure).”

The point for HR: If you give such tests to employees or prospective employees, you’ll want to be sure the people administering them know exactly what they can and can’t test — or ask — without violating the ADA.

photo credit: kevindooley

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