Pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), employers are limited in what they can ask employees about their medical conditions. There are also limitations on medical exams that can be imposed on employees or applicants. For example, once an employment offer has been made, employees can be asked about medical conditions or be required to undergo a medical exam, but everyone that falls into that particular job category must be subject to the same requirements. So, what happens if your employer requires you to submit to a medical exam after it becomes aware of your disability?
Fourth Circuit Rules Against Forced Medical Exam for Disabled Employee
The issue taken up by the Fourth Circuit in a very recent case, EEOC v. McLeod Health, Inc ., dealt with an employer’s ability to force a long-term employee to take a medical exam simply because she was known to have a disability. The employee had worked for the company for 28 years as the editor of the company’s internal employee newsletter. Her job involved interviewing employees and publishing articles about company events which required her to travel among the company’s various campuses located within an approximate 100-mile radius.
The Employee’s Disability Caused Mobility Issues
The employee, in this case, had a physical disability referred to as “postaxial hypoplasia of the lower extremity” which caused some issues with mobility. Specifically, her condition at times causes her to stumble or fall and become tired more easily. She also had issues with sitting or standing in the same position for long periods of time. In 2012, the employee suffered three falls within a four-month period – only one of which occurred at work and she was not seriously injured. None of these falls caused the employee to be absent from work. Complaints About the Employee’s Performance For several months, the employee’s manager continuously expressed concerns about the employee’s performance. Some of the complaints missing deadlines, coming to work late and being “less-than-enthusiastic” about the company’s internal messaging.
The manager complained to Human Resources that the employee’s performance
issues were possibly due to health problems. The manager also reported
the employee’s fall to Human Resources, and it was recommended that
the manager’s concerns be forwarded to the employer’s occupational
health department. It was then determined that the employee should be
required to undergo a fitness-for-duty medical exam.
Employer Imposed Restrictions and Requests for Accommodations
During the forced medical exam, the employee provided her medical history and explained her recent falls. It was decided that additional testing was required. Meanwhile, she was placed on paid administrative leave until the testing and results were completed. It was eventually determined that she was a “[h]igh fall risk in 75% of all work related task[s]” and her employer placed her on several restrictions, including travel limited to 10 miles from her main office, the use of a motorized scooter and a specific parking space. In response, the employee submitted an accommodations form, believing that it was required in light of the restrictions.
Unpaid Leave and Eventual Termination
In light of her requested accommodations, her employer told her not to return to work because the accommodations prevented her from traveling to all of the company campuses. She was placed on unpaid medical leave for six months and then terminated. EEOC Claim for Illegal Medical Exam and Termination Following her termination, the employee filed an EEOC charge alleging that she was required to undergo a medical exam without cause and was ultimately terminated because of her disability. After the claims were brought to court, they were dismissed in favor of the employer.
On appeal, however, the appellate court determined that the evidence supported a finding that traveling to the various campuses was not actually an essential function of her job. Particularly, there was evidence that the employee interviews could be conducted over the phone. The appellate court also found that when the employer required her to take the medical fitness-for-duty exam, it did not have a reasonable belief that her medical condition made her unable to perform her job safely.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!