The Americans With Disabilities Act, or “ADA,” is a federal law that provides civil rights protection against discrimination for those with legally defined disabilities. The ADA guarantees all American disabled people equal opportunities in employment, public accommodations, transportation, and housing. Employers may not discriminate against an employee, or a potential employee, based on their disabilities.

The Act protects employees as well as potential employees from discriminatory action in every aspect of the work environment. As such, the Act provides protection on the job as well as during the hiring and firing processes. There are some specific things a potential employer cannot ask prospective employees, as such questions would be discriminatory. Employers may ask whether a potential employee can perform the essential functions of the job they are being considered for, either with or without reasonable accommodations.

A disability is considered to be something that substantially limits a major life activity, such as walking. Disabilities may be physical, or they may be mental. An employee’s condition may need to be evaluated in order to determine whether it meets this legal standard. However, there are several conditions that are generally accepted as disabilities. Some examples include cancer, autism, and cerebral palsy.

The ADA requires that employers comply with specific rules regarding the medical exams of applicants and employees. An exam may be for the purpose of employer-provided health insurance benefits, or to ensure that the employee is well enough to perform all necessary job functions. Violation of these requirements could hold the employer liable for employment discrimination. There are three stages in which a medical exam may come up during the employment process, and each stage has different rules regarding whether requiring a medical exam is actually permissible.

First Stage: Before the Job Offer

According to the ADA, if no job offer has been made to the applicant by the employer, the employer cannot require a medical exam from the applicant. Additionally, employers cannot ask applicants whether they have a disability, as previously mentioned. They may only ask an applicant how they would perform the essential job functions. In some circumstances, they may ask if you would need any reasonable accommodations to perform those essential functions.

It is important to note that an employer may only ask these questions if they were to ask all applicants or new employees the very same questions. For any question asked about an applicant’s ability to perform job related tasks, the same question must be asked of every applicant.

Second Stage: After a Job Offer, Employment Has Not Yet Begun

Once a job offer has been made, but before the employee has begun work, an employer may make a conditional job offer. This job offer may be contingent upon the completion of a medical exam. However, this can only occur if the following criteria is met:

  • The employer must require the same medical exam to be completed by all applicants or new hires for that specific job class;
  • The employer maintains confidentiality in regards to all records from the exam; and
  • The medical exam results are not to be used by the employer for the purposes of discriminating against people with disabilities.

Should the job offer be withdrawn upon completion of the medical exam, the employer must prove that the reason for the withdrawal was one of the following:

  • Job related, meaning, the employee would be unable to complete essential job functions based on the results of their exam; or
  • The employee would be unable to complete essential job functions even with reasonable accommodations.

Third Stage: After Employment Has Begun

Once a person has begun to work for an employer, the employer has the right to require a medical exam if it is job related and a business necessity. An example of this would be if an employee is requesting a reasonable accommodation. The employer would have the right to require a medical exam in order to verify that such an accommodation would be justified, and is needed.

If the employer has sufficient reason to believe that an employee is not able to perform the core duties of their job, or if they cannot perform those duties safely, they may ask medical questions or require a medical exam. Disability discrimination is a serious claim and although there are defenses available to employers accused of such, it is best to avoid discriminatory practices altogether. As such, it is imperative as an employer to ensure you have sufficient reason before requiring any sort of medical exam at any stage of the employment process.

Do I Need an Attorney for Issues Concerning Allowable Medical Exams Under the ADA?

It is absolutely possible for employers to discriminate against an employee due to their disability, but doing so is likely a violation of the employee’s rights under the ADA. There are certain requirements that must be met by an employee in order to hold their employer liable for violating the ADA. Failing to meet such requirements could limit the employee’s ability sue their employer for disability discrimination.

If you have experience employment discrimination because of a disability, you should immediately consult with a skilled and knowledgeable employment law attorney. An experienced employment law attorney can help you understand your rights and legal options, as well as represent you in court as needed.