The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is probably one of the most confusing employment discrimination laws that employers have to deal with. As an employer, you want to be sure that a prospective employee can perform all the functions of the job, but at the same time you don’t want to violate the law and risk discriminating against a disabled applicant, who is part of a protected class, by asking or requiring things you’re not allowed to. 

What Does the Americans with Disabilities Act Say About Medical Exams?

According to the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), an employer can only require an employee to undergo a medical exam when the medical exam is "job related and consistent with business necessity." The medical exam must be both of these, not just one or the other. It is important to note that "job-related" and "business necessity" are two distinct requirements.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are limited in when may require a medical exam. According to the ADA, any test or procedure that is intended to gather information about the health and physical or mental impairments of an applicant or employee is considered a medical exam. For example, a psychological test that is intended to determine whether a person has a mental disorder will be considered a medical exam. 

How Can a Medical Exam be Job Related?

In order for a medical exam to be job related under the ADA, it must actually measure a person’s ability to perform the job. So if a medical exam is used to screen out individuals who have a disability, that test can only be used if it measures the person’s ability to perform the job. Ultimately, the employer is not allowed to require you to submit to a medical exam unless that medical exam has some bearing on your ability to perform the job.

The medical exam must also be consistent with a business necessity. This means that the medical exam must relate to the essential functions of the job. An essential function is any aspect of your job that is required to be performed. 

The job related requirement applies to any function or condition of the job. As long as the medical exam has something to do with your ability to perform some function of the job, it satisfies the job related requirement.
If you have a disability that prevents you from performing trivial or marginal job functions, then the ADA requires your employer to look at whether you can perform the essential functions of your job. 

For example, if you are a cashier at a grocery store, the essential functions of your job would be to ring people up and help them bag their items. Any medical exam your employer required would have to be related to how you perform those functions in order to be consistent with business necessity.

Are Tests Usually Considered Medical Exams?

Some tests that are commonly held to be medical exams include:

  • Vision and Hearing Tests: Assessments of hearing or vision are considered medical exams. In addition, if a hearing or vision specialist makes an observation as to a person’s hearing or vision abilities, that also qualifies as a medical exam.
  • Psychological Exams: If a psychological exam is given and the exam would likely lead to a diagnosis of a mental disorder or impairment, then the exam counts as a medical exam. By contrast, if the exam only measures personality traits or characteristics, it is not a medical exam.

Do I Need to Have a Disability in Order to Be Protected?

While the ADA generally protects only those with a disability or those perceived to have a disability, when it comes to medical exams, the ADA protects everyone. So, if an employer unlawfully requires an employee to submit to a medical exam, then the employee can likely bring a lawsuit against the employer for discrimination regardless of disability. 

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you feel that you have been or will be subjected to an unlawful medical exam, an experienced employment lawyer can help you determine whether or not the medical exam violates your rights under the ADA. If you believe the medical exam was illegal, a lawyer can help you file a lawsuit.