Can Employees be Required to Undergo a Fitness-for-Duty Examination?

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Employers can require new employees and current employees to undergo fitness-for-duty (FFD) examinations as long as the FFD testing process complies with certain legal requirements and avoids discrimination. When designed correctly, FFD testing has proven to significantly reduce injuries and improve job productivity.

FFD Testing of New Hires
For new hires, any post-offer, pre-placement FFD test must be conducted across the board for all individuals applying for the same job title. In other words, employers cannot randomly select an applicant to undergo a new hire FFD test and exclude others from the same requirement who are applying for the same job. Such action would constitute a discriminatory hiring practice. If the FFD test includes job simulated functional tasks, (e.g., lifting, climbing ladders, squatting, etc.), the task must have content validity (i.e., the task can be identified and measured on the job) and be essential (i.e., the task either defines the job or the inability to perform the task will result in significant loss of work productivity).

Using non-job-simulated tasks such isometric gauges, push-ups, sit-ups, etc. to assess an individual’s abilities to perform the essential duties of a job is more likely to draw criticism and dissatisfaction by an applicant. It may also be more difficult to defend in a court of law. In addition, criterion-based validity studies are more much more time consuming and expensive to conduct than content-based validity studies.

FFD Testing of Incumbent Employees
FFD testing of incumbent employees may be conducted under various conditions as described below:

Ongoing Periodic FFD Testing
Employers can require mandatory periodic FFD tests for current or incumbent employees for jobs that place high physical demands on the body, have a high-risk exposure for injury, and/or performed in remote locations where medical assistance is not readily available. For example, periodic FFD tests can be required for high risk jobs such as fire fighters, first responders, police officers and employees who work on the remote north slope of Alaska or on a deep-water drilling rig in the North Sea.  However, mandatory periodic FFD tests cannot be conducted on routine jobs (e.g., warehouse worker or welder) as such testing does not satisfy the basic criteria of having business necessity for FFD testing. As with new hires, periodic FFD testing of incumbent employees working high risk jobs must be conducted across the board for the specific job title being tested.

FFD Testing “for Cause”
An employer may conduct an FFD exam on any employee working in any job based on a “for cause” basis. EEOC has outlined the criteria for satisfying “for cause” criteria, but in general, the “for cause” FFD test can be legally applied when an employee requests accommodations to perform the essential duties of the job or when there is observation or reliable information obtained that an employee may have a change in physical abilities or health status that threatens the safety of the employee and/or coworkers when performing the essential functions of the job.

FFD Testing for Return to Work After Injury, Illness, or Prolonged Absence
An employer may require an employee returning to work following an injury/illness or prolonged absence to demonstrate the abilities to perform the essential functions of the job so that accommodations may be provided if needed. Employees returning from FLMA leave must be reinstated to the job prior to any FFD testing and such testing may only be conducted if there is reasonable concern that an employee’s residual functional capacities may be impaired following injury or illness. FFD testing cannot be conducted on employees taking FMLA to take care of a family member.

Regardless of the type of FFD test an employer chooses to utilize, the basic requirement of any FFD testing that includes job simulated functional testing is to first develop valid functional job descriptions (FJDs) that describe the essential functional demands of the job.   Need assistance? WorkSaver Systems specializes in validating essential job physical demands, creating FJDs, and designing FFD tests that are fully compliant with all federal and state regulations.


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