ADA Permits Employers to Require Medical Examinations for Problematic Behavior


Two federal appellate courts this month affirmed the right of employers under the Americans with Disabilities Act to require a medical examination to assess an employee’s fitness for duty based upon troubling conduct.

In Johnson v. Old Dominion University, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit found that the employer had a basis for requiring the employee to undergo a fitness for duty examination based on his increasing inability to communicate and his “adversarial and erratic behavior,” as demonstrated by the excessive number of meritless grievances and document requests that he filed, and his interactions with his manager and co-workers that caused them to fear that he would harm them. Because he refused to undergo the examination on four separate occasions, he was disciplined and then terminated from employment.

In Lopez-Lopez v. The Robinson School, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit also upheld the employer’s requirement that the employee undergo a medical examination and obtain treatment following a meeting to discuss the teacher’s inappropriate classroom behavior, during which she had a breakdown that resulted in her crying on the floor and threatening suicide.

In both cases, the courts found that the examinations met the standard under the ADA of being job-related and consistent with business necessity, as there was a reasonable basis – Johnson’s impaired communications skills and Lopez’s breakdown and suicidal statements – to believe that the individuals in each situation were unable to perform their essential job functions. As the 1st Circuit stated, “requiring medical examinations may be justified based on business necessity where there is a basis to believe that the employee’s ability to perform her job may be impaired or the employee presents a troubling behavior that would impact the work environment.”