The Americans with Disabilities Act applies a traffic-light approach to employer-mandated medical exams.
- Red Light (prior to an offer of employment): the ADA prohibits all disability-related inquiries and medical examinations, even those that are job related.
- Yellow Light (after employment begins): an employer only may make disability-related inquiries and require medical examinations that are job-related and consistent with business necessity.
- Green Light (after an applicant is given a conditional job offer, but before s/he starts work): an employer may make any disability-related inquiries and conduct medical examinations, regardless of whether they are related to the job, as long as it does so for all entering employees in the same job category.
McDonald v. Webasto Roof Systems (6th Cir. 6/25/14) [pdf] concerns the interpretation of the green-light, post-offer conditional medical examination. The question the case asks is how many post-offer, pre-employment medical examinations may an employer require of an individual? The answer is as many as reasonably necessary to determine whether the employee can perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation.
Colin McDonald applied to work as a maintenance employee at Webasto. The job required one to be able to perform certain physical activities. His initial medical examination revealed a history of back problems, but ultimately concluded that he could perform the essential functions of the job. Concerned about the back injuries, Webasto sent him for a second opinion, which ultimately disqualified McDonald from the job.
McDonald claimed that the second examination violated the ADA’s requirement of one post-offer, pre-employment examination. The Court of Appeals disagreed:
The [ADA’s] regulation refers to “[m]edical examinations” in the plural. More saliently, McDonald cites no authority interpreting the ADA to prohibit more than one pre-employment medical examination. [Equal Employment Opportunity Commision] guidance expressly provides that an employer may request “more medical information … if the follow-up examinations or questions are medically related to the previously obtained medical information.” … Webasto required a second medical examination only after the first revealed a history of “[l]umbar bulging discs.”
This case makes a whole lot of sense. The purpose of pre-employment medical exams is to confirm that an employee is capable of performing the essential functions of the job. This employer was concerned because of conflicting information revealed by the first exam. The follow-up exam was the best way to determine if the individual could physically perform the job.
If one can prove that the second exam was an unjustified fishing expedition, then one might have a claim under the ADA. Where, as was the case here, however, the second exam is medically related to the first exam, the ADA should not cause a problem.