How much medical information can we get from employees who may have disabilities?


The Americans with Disabilities Act has strict rules about the scope and manner of disability-related inquiries and medical examinations of workers.

For example, do you remember that post last week about the forklift operator on opioids? He presented doctor’s notes to his employer to confirm that he would not present a direct threat to himself or others. The company could have chosen another physician who has expertise in the employee’s specific condition to examine him. That way, the employer could have obtained enough medical information to assess further that employee’s ability to perform his job.

But it didn’t. Instead, it appeared to stereotype the employee without any further medical input and concluded that his medication prevented him from doing his job safely.

Yada, yada, yada, expensive settlement.

Now let’s change the fact up a bit.

Suppose another employee mentions his medical condition to a coworker. Management learns of the employee’s condition and requires him to submit to a medical inquiry to learn more about how his condition could impact his ability to perform his job safely — or, perhaps, to obtain information relating to a potential workplace accommodation.

So far, so good.

But here’s the rub. An employer can’t go ham with an overly broad and intrusive medical inquiry into health conditions unrelated to the individual’s ability to perform their job. Such alleged conduct violates the ADA, which protects employees from improper medical inquiries. One employer learned the hard way with a nearly $70K settlement with the EEOC.

In that case, not only did the employer allegedly seek an overly broad medical exam, but it overreacted before the medical exam, too—something about telling the employee that he was a liability and seeking his resignation.

The EEOC’s two takeaways:

  1. “An employer cannot fire someone based on an unfounded belief that the individual’s medical condition renders him unable to perform his job.”
  2. “Nor should an employer commence a medical inquiry that is broader than necessary to determine whether a medical condition impacts an employee’s ability to safely perform his job.”
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