As an employment attorney, I often field questions from individuals regarding what their employers can legally require, once being put on notice of an employee’s disability. Many individuals wonder if their employers are allowed to obtain copies of their medical records and/or require verification of an employee’s disability from their treating physician, and, as it so happens, employers are not required to simply take an employee’s word for it regarding their disability and certainly are allowed to confirm, through reasonable means, that an individual employee suffers from a disability that qualifies under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).
One question that I have heard several times, recently, is whether an employer can require an employee to undergo medical examinations while they are employed. The short answer is yes, in essentially two situations; namely, (1) when the employer needs to determine if the employee is capable of performing the essential functions of his or her position; and (2) when, after an employee requests a reasonable accommodation, the employer needs to determine the extent of a reasonable accommodation that will allow the employee to perform the essential functions of his or her job. These situations, however, do not allow employers to obtain any information they desire, and the ADA does impose restrictions on when and to what extent an employer can get its employees’ medical information.
Under the ADA, an employer can require a medical examination of a current employee only if they are job-related and consistent with business necessity. This requirement generally means that an employer, based on objective evidence, must have a reasonable belief that: (1) the employee’s medical condition could impair his or her ability to perform the essential job functions of his or her job; or (2) the employee’s medical condition could pose a direct threat to his or herself or coworkers. Furthermore, the ADA requires that employers keep medical information obtained from a disability-related inquiry or medical examination, as well as any medical information voluntarily disclosed by an employee, as a confidential. Employers may share this medical information only in limited circumstances with supervisors and managers.
Even if an employer can demonstrate a lawful reason for requesting a medical inquiry or exam, it does not entitle your employer to all your medical records. Instead, an employer can only obtain information necessary to determine if the employee is capable of performing the essential functions of his/her job. If the employee requests an accommodation, the employer can require sufficient documentation to establish the employee suffers from a disability under the ADA and how the accommodation will allow the employee to perform the essential functions of his/her job. Employers are not entitled to unrelated medical records. For more information on disability-related inquiries and medical examinations in regards to the ADA, check out the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Enforcement Guidance on the subject.
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