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What Are 'Overly Broad Medical Inquiries' Under the ADA?

By now you should know whether your small business has to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). What you may not know is whether you can be a little overzealous in asking about the health of your employees.

As it turns out, the ADA prohibits employers from subjecting employees to "overly broad medical inquiries," as a trucking company found out when it required all of its drivers to notify the company of any contact with a medical professional. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ordered PAM Transport to pay $477,399 in back pay and damages for asking its employees to report even routine physicals to management.

So how much medical info can employers require from employees? Let's see where the ADA and EEOC draw the line:

Overly Broad Medical Inquiries

While the phrase "overly broad medical inquiries" might sound new to employers, it basically refers to any inquiry or medical examination that is not "job-related and consistent with business necessity" under the ADA. As defined by the EEOC:

"This means that the employer must have a reasonable belief based on objective evidence that:

  • an employee will be unable to perform the essential functions his or her job because of a medical condition; or,
  • the employee will pose a direct threat because of a medical condition."

Employers can also request medical information if an employee has requested an accommodation and the need for the accommodation is not obvious, or to obtain medical information from voluntary programs aimed at common health problems.

In this case, the EEOC declared that PAM Transport's blanket request for notice of any and all contact with medical professionals was not job-related or consistent with a business necessity. Over $200,000 of PAM's fine is a punitive damages award, aimed at discouraging companies from making overly broad medical inquiries.

Medical Questions and Examinations

Employers can consult the EEOC's website for help in determining which medical inquiries are permitted under the ADA. You can also consult with an experienced EEOC or ADA attorney to make sure your business is complying with federal employment regulations.

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