The ADA Does Not Prohibit Employers From Asking All Health-Related Questions
Although the Americans with Disabilities Act does circumscribe an employer’s ability to make medical inquiries, employers may still ask questions about an employee’s health as long as such questions are job-related and consistent with business necessity, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit recently reiterated.
In Fisher v. Basehor-Linwood Unified School District No.458, following a teacher’s panic attack in the classroom, the principal asked her about her appointment with her psychiatrist. The teacher was subsequently terminated for various performance and conduct issues. She sued, alleging in part that the principal’s question was a medical inquiry prohibited by the ADA. The Tenth Circuit stated, however, that such inquiries are permitted “if an employer can demonstrate that a medical examination or inquiry is necessary to determine whether the employee can perform job-related duties when the employer can identify legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons to doubt the employee’s capacity to perform his or her duties.” In this case, the principal’s question sought information about the teacher’s capacity to perform her essential functions of teaching and supervising students. Given the panic attack that rendered the teacher unable to supervise her students, the principal’s question met the requirements of being both job-related and necessary.
Thus, this case reinforces the point that employers are entitled to ask questions about an employee’s health where those health issues apparently impact the employee’s ability to perform their jobs.