The 5 W's of Employee Fitness for Duty Evaluations
Medical and psychological evaluations of employees, sometimes called “Fitness for Duty Evaluations,” may be required by employers to determine whether an employee is able to perform the essential job functions of his or her position. This article will provide you answers to 5 basic questions regarding Fitness for Duty Evaluations (“FFDEs”): Who? What? When? Why? and Where?
Under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), employers may require a current employee, or a job applicant, to undergo a fitness for duty evaluation. A more in-depth discussion of the applicable federal and state laws can be found here.
An employee may be required to undergo a fitness for duty evaluation when the employer believes that the employee may be unable to perform the essential functions of his or job because of a medical or psychological condition.
A job applicant may be required to undergo a fitness for duty evaluation after the employer has extended a job offer to the applicant but before employment begins or when the applicant has requested an accommodation in order to participate in the hiring process.
A fitness for duty evaluation may be a medical or psychological examination in which a licensed physician seeks information about an employee’s physical or mental condition or health as it relates to, and within the scope of, his or her job duties. A more in-depth discussion of what constitutes a medical examination, as set forth by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), can be found here.
There are different times when fitness for duty evaluations may be appropriate. Some instances that may call for a fitness for duty evaluation are:
- When an employer believe that an employee cannot perform his/her job safely and successfully because of a medical or psychological condition;
- When an employer believes that an employee’s medical or psychological condition may make the employee a danger to him or herself, co-workers, clients, or the public; or
- When an employee returns to work from FMLA leave due to his or her own illness.
An employer can form reasonable belief based on objective evidence (which is required to justify a fitness for duty evaluation) if, for example, the employee self-discloses a medical or psychological condition, the employer observes serious performance issues, there is excessive absence due to illness or injury, or the employer observes unsafe behavior or conduct in the workplace.
Generally, at the point at which an employer is seeking a physician to conduct a fitness for duty evaluation of an employee, time is of the essence. The employer has a reasonable belief that an employee cannot perform his or her job duties or poses a safety threat to himself/herself or others. There are no state or federal laws specifying deadlines or windows of time in which the evaluation must take place, but most employers will look to have an evaluation conducted as soon as possible.
It is important to note that an employer may not require a current employee to undergo a fitness for duty evaluation unless the examination is “job-related and consistent with business necessity. A fitness for duty evaluation is job related and consistent with business necessity when an employer has 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. A more in-depth discussion of what constitutes “job-related and consistent with business necessity” can be found here.
As stated above, the purpose of a fitness for duty evaluation is to determine whether an employee is able to safely (without risk to himself, herself or others) perform the essential job duties of his/her position with or without an accommodation. Employers rely on the results of a fitness for duty evaluation to make decisions regarding accommodations, work assignments, location placement, and the appropriateness of a particular position for an employee. Fitness for duty evaluations promote the health and well-being of individual employees while furthering an employer’s goals of employee productivity and a safe working environment for employees, clients and the public.
Unlike an independent medical evaluation conducted in a civil matter, in which an examination must take place within 75 miles of the person being evaluated (absent a court order), a fitness for duty evaluation may take place anywhere an employee is willing to travel. That being said, the medical and/or psychological condition of an employee undergoing a fitness for duty evaluation, is already in questions. Out of convenience for the employee, it is advisable that a licensed physician in the appropriate specialty conducts the evaluation as close to the employee’s place of residence or employment. In situations where the employee must travel farther to see a specific type of specialist, employers may offer to provide transportation for the employee to and from the evaluation.
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