The Americans with Disabilities Act only allows employers to conduct medical examinations of employees on the basis of business necessity. Last month in an unpublished decision, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that an employer had business necessity to require a psychological examination of an employee who expressed suicidal thoughts to her co-workers.
In Barnum v. The Ohio State Univ. Med. Ctr., the plaintiff’s co-workers reported concerns to management about her wellbeing following a divorce. These concerns included statements by the plaintiff indicating that she had experienced suicidal thoughts. In response, the employer required her to undergo a psychological evaluation as a condition of continuing employment. She sued under the ADA, claiming that her supervisors regarded her as disabled and required an impermissible medical exam.
The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the employer. The court noted that the plaintiff never suffered an adverse action as a result of the requirement. A reasonable employer would conclude that her statements and behavior raised questions over her ability to effectively perform her job. As such, the examination was job related and consistent with business necessity.
Employers sometimes hesitate to ascribe a medical basis to an employee’s performance problems based on concerns that by doing so, it could be accused of regarding the employee as disabled, or could open the door to accommodation requests. In situations where an employee is clearly distressed, employers naturally want to assist him or her through a medical evaluation or EAP referral. Federal courts have been consistent in concluding that such measures, if based on reasonable evidence, do not violate the ADA’s restrictions on employee medical exams.