Navigating the intricacies of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) concerning disability-related inquiries and medical examinations is crucial for employers to avoid potential claims or lawsuits. This article breaks down the ADA guidelines across different stages of employment, clarifying permissible actions and highlighting key considerations.

The ADA breaks down hiring into three stages: pre-offer, post-offer (after applicant is given a conditional job offer), and employment (after the employee starts work). There are different rules for each stage in regard to the permissibility of disability-related questions and examination. It is important to note, under the ADA, any medical information collected in any of the three stages must always be kept confidential.

Pre-Offer Stage

During the pre-offer stage, the ADA strictly prohibits disability-related questions and medical examinations, regardless of their job relevance. Employers are cautioned against inquiring about an applicant’s medical condition, ensuring evaluation based solely on non-disability qualifications. However, stating job physical requirements is permissible, such as the ability to lift a certain amount of weight, or climb a ladder, focusing on essential functions without delving into medical history.

Post-Offer Stage

Transitioning to the post-offer stage, ADA regulations allow for disability-related questions and medical examinations, but only if uniformly applied to all prospective employees in the same job category. A genuine job offer must precede these inquiries. The EEOC has stated that a job offer is genuine only if the employer “has evaluated all relevant non-medical information which it reasonably could have obtained and analyzed prior to giving the offer.” Employers may explore various health-related aspects such as workers’ compensation history and prior sick leave, but discretion is advised. Asking a bunch of disability-related questions could lay the foundation for a disability discrimination claim if or when that individual suffers an adverse employment action.

Employment Stage

In the employment stage, ADA permits disability-related questions and medical examinations only if job-related and consistent with business necessity. Pursuant to EEOC guidance, a question or examination is job-related and consistent with business necessity when an employer has reasonable belief, supported by objective evidence, of an employee’s inability to perform essential job functions due to a medical condition or posing a direct threat. Fitness for duty examinations are permissible for positions affecting public safety if narrowly tailored to specific job-related concerns. Questions about employee medications must be job-related and consistent with business necessity, focusing on medications that could make the employee a danger to themselves or others in performing their essential functions.

Reasonable Accommodation Requests

Regarding reasonable accommodation requests, employers may require documentation of an employee’s need for accommodation if the need is not obvious. What this means is that an employer may require documentation which states that the employee has a covered disability and the employee’s functional limitations. The EEOC has further elaborated on this guidance and stated that an employer may require documentation from an employee that, “describes the nature, severity, and duration of the employee’s impairment, the activity or activities that the impairment limits, and the extent to which the impairment limits the employee’s ability to perform the activity or activities,” as well as “substantiates why the requested reasonable accommodation is needed.” However, employers must refrain from seeking unnecessary medical records beyond the scope of accommodation requests.

Navigating ADA regulations concerning disability-related inquiries and medical examinations can be tricky. As such, when an employer finds themselves in a situation where they have to ask an employee or applicant questions that may implicate the ADA, there are two important questions they should keep in mind: Are the questions disability related and/or is the examination medicalWhere are we in the employment process (i.e., which stage)? If an employer keeps these questions in mind, they should be able to avoid running afoul of ADA regulations.