EEOC Office of Legal Counsel staff members wrote the following informal discussion letter in response to an inquiry from a member of the public. This letter is intended to provide an informal discussion of the noted issue and does not constitute an official opinion of the Commission.
ADA: Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Examination
March 28, 2007
Dear Mr. :
This responds to your January 8, 2007, letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which was received on February 20, 2007. Specifically, you ask whether an employer may perform a physical fitness test when an employee currently working in a light physically demanding position is being considered for promotion to a position requiring heavy physical labor. The purpose of the test would be to determine whether the employee could perform the essential functions of the new position without posing a direct threat.
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) limits when an employer may obtain medical information from applicants and employees. Before a job offer is made, the ADA prohibits all disability-related inquiries (i.e., questions likely to elicit information about a disability) and medical examinations, even if they are related to the job. After a conditional offer is made, an employer may ask disability-related questions and require medical examinations as long as it does so for all entering employees in the same job category. Once employment begins, an employer may make disability-related inquiries and require medical examinations only if they are job-related and consistent with business necessity. See EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Examinations Under the ADA (7/26/2000). (This document is available on our website at http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/guidance-inquiries.html.)
Because only disability-related inquiries and medical examinations are subject to the ADA’s restrictions described above, the first issue is whether the physical fitness test you wish to conduct is a “medical examination.” The second issue is whether the person being considered for promotion should be treated as an “applicant” for the new position or an “employee.”
A number of factors are relevant in determining whether a test or procedure is a medical examination, such as: whether the test or procedure is administered or interpreted by a health care professional; whether it is designed to reveal an impairment; whether it measures the performance of a task or the physiological responses to performing the task; and/or, whether medical equipment is used. Physical fitness tests, which measure a person’s performance of physical tasks, such as running or lifting, do not violate the ADA’s restrictions on medical examinations, as long as they do not include tests or procedures that could be considered medical For example, if the test you wish to conduct simply measures a person’s strength or endurance and does not measure physiological responses such as heart rate or blood pressure before or after performing the test, it is permissible at any time. However, if the purpose of the test is to reveal an impairment, it is considered a medical examination and whether or when it can be given depends on whether the person is an applicant or an employee.
It is unclear from your letter whether the person being considered for promotion is applying for the new job or is noncompetitively entitled to the position. If the person is applying for the new job, he or she should be treated as an applicant. This means that you cannot ask him or her any disability-related questions or require a medical examination before making a conditional offer of the new position. After you extend an offer, you may ask the individual disability-related questions or require a medical examination as long as you treat all entering employees in this job category the same. If you use medical information you learn about a disability to withdraw the job offer, you must show that the individual is not able to perform the job’s essential functions or would pose a direct threat (i.e., a significant risk of substantial harm to the individual or others), with or without reasonable accommodation.
If the individual being considered for promotion is not an applicant but, rather, is noncompetitively entitled to the position, he or she is an employee and may only be asked disability-related questions or required to take medical examinations that are job-related and consistent with business necessity. This means that you must have a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that: (1) the employee’s ability to perform essential job functions will be impaired by a medical condition; or, (2) the employee will pose a direct threat because of a medical condition. This standard may be met, for example, you already know or have reason to believe that this particular employee has a medical condition that may impair his or her ability to perform the essential functions of the heavy labor position. Without such knowledge or belief, however, you cannot require a medical examination (e.g., a test or procedure to reveal an impairment) but may perform a physical fitness test to determine whether the person can perform the requirements of the new job.
This letter is an informal discussion of the issues you raised and is not an official opinion of the EEOC.
Senior Attorney Advisor
ADA Policy Division
This page was last modified on May 2, 2007.
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