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Rand L. Stephens & Richard Koss

Fitness Duty Exam: Am I Required to Take One for a Job?

optician with tonometer and patient at eye clinic

A fitness duty exam or fitness for duty assessment is a medical exam that a current employee may be required to undergo before they start or go back to work. The exam assesses whether an individual is physically and physiologically able to perform the duties of their job. These exams can often take place after an employee has taken time off of work because of a serious injury or after dealing with a mental health issue. This exam can also take place if an employee’s behavior raises safety concerns.

There are several different types of fitness for duty exams an employer may ask an employee to take. The following exams are the most typical. If you have further questions as an employer or employee in the Bay Area, contact one of our experienced California employment lawyers for assistance.

Return to Work
If an employee has the all-clear to return to work after an injury, but the employer still has concerns, they may request a Return to Work exam. This type of exam can assess both physical and mental health.

Job Performance
If an employer has concerns about an employee’s job performance, they may ask that this type of examination take place. For example, if an employee using a forklift crashes into a shelf and narrowly misses driving into another coworker, the employer may require that a vision exam take place. This type of exam requires fact-based evidence to support the belief that the employee may pose a risk to himself and others.

Physical Ability Test
This type of test assesses whether an individual can physically perform the tasks of the job. The test synthesizes the physical duties of the job and compiles them into one test. Physical ability tests are often used as a screening tool to ensure an individual can do the duties of the job.

Can My Employer Make Me Take a Fitness Duty Exam?

Whether or not your employer can ask you to take a fitness for duty exam largely depends on what your job is and what your condition is that could impact your ability to do your job.

If you take time off of work because of a serious health condition, whether it be physical or mental, your employer can request you take the exam before you return to work. An employer may request a fitness for duty exam to assess or manage the risk and safety of the employee and others in the workplace. The exam might also be requested to ensure that you are able to perform the duties of your job.

Your employer may also request the exam after you have taken time off of work. If an employee’s behavior in the workplace has suddenly shifted and given an employer reason enough to believe that the employee poses a safety risk to themselves or others, then a fitness duty exam may be requested. For example, if an employee is found unconscious, unresponsive, or otherwise unfit to perform their job duties, they may require the employee to seek medical care before they can return to work.

A good rule of thumb is to follow this direction from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “With respect to employees, an employer may ask questions about disability or require medical examinations only if doing so is job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

Also, under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and ADA, the employer is not allowed to keep you from returning to your job unless you are 100% healed from your injury. The employer may only require that you can perform the essential functions of your job, with or without reasonable accommodations.

What If I Have a Disability?

If you have a disability that is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), your employer will be more limited in requiring you to take a fitness for duty exam. It is illegal for an employer to use a fitness for duty exam as a way to determine whether an employee has a disability. However, if an employer has a reasonable belief of the following, they can ask you to take a fitness for duty exam:

  • The employee’s medical or psychological condition may keep them from performing their job duties.
  • The employee poses a direct threat to the safety of other employees as well as themselves.

Employers must be able to provide fact-based evidence that shows their concerns are valid. Not doing so could be a violation of FEHA and ADA.

If you are a San Francisco employee or employer in need of advice or representation concerning contract disputes, retaliation, whistleblower protections, workplace discrimination, or other California labor law issues, contact the Richard Koss Bay Area employment law attorneys at 650-722-7046 on the San Francisco Peninsula, or 925-757-1700 in the East Bay.

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