- An employer did not run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it required an "increasingly divisive and combative" employee to undergo a fitness-for-duty evaluation as a condition of his continued employment, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (Johnson v. Old Dominion University et al., No. 18-1689 (4th Cir. May 14, 2020)).
- An IT specialist at Old Dominion University (ODU), began having communication problems at work and filed numerous grievances, according to the court. When his actions reportedly became "strident" and "irrational," the employer placed him on paid leave, pending a fitness-for-duty evaluation. He failed to submit to the exam and was fired.
- The employee sued, alleging ODU violated the ADA. A federal district court granted summary judgment for the employer and the 4th Circuit affirmed, noting that the employer's actions fell within the limits imposed by the ADA's regulations.
The ADA places restrictions on employers when it comes medical exams. The federal law forbids covered employers from requiring employees to undergo medical exams "unless such examination is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity."
To meet that standard, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requires that an employer have "a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that: (1) an employee's ability to perform essential job functions will be impaired by a medical condition; or (2) an employee will pose a direct threat due to a medical condition," according to its guidance.
In Johnson, the employer argued that communication was an essential function of the employee's job. It was able to show that it reasonably believed that ability was impaired because, among other things, his supervisor needed to act as an intermediary between him and co-workers.
Of course, employer guidelines on medical exams have achieved even more significance in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. EEOC has approved on-site testing of employees for COVID-19 as a condition of entering the workplace as long as the test is "job related and consistent with business necessity."
In addition, employers covered by the ADA also are allowed to take employees' temperatures as they enter the workplace, the commission said, even though such a test is a medical exam; because a worker’s refusal to comply can negatively impact the safety of others, workers who refuse to undergo required disease-prevention measures may be barred from entering the workplace.