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ADA Allows Sleep Apnea Test for Obese Driver

    Client Alerts
  • October 25, 2016

Almost since the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, motor carriers and drivers have clashed over the carriers’ ability to exclude drivers from service based on health issues. Many of these controversies have involved diabetes, seizure disorders or other medical conditions that in some circumstances can raise concerns over safe driving ability. Earlier this month, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals blessed a motor carrier’s attempt to be more proactive in terms of identifying and treating a medical condition that could lead to safety concerns.

In Parker v. Crete Carrier Corp., the motor carrier instituted a mandatory sleep apnea test for drivers with a body mass index over 35. The plaintiff refused the test, claiming that he had no medical record of sleep apnea, and no history of accidents. After being taken out of service, he filed suit under the ADA, contending that the sleep apnea test was an impermissible medical examination.

The Eighth Circuit disagreed, affirming dismissal of the claim. The court heavily relied on expert testimony provided by the carrier, noting the link between obesity and sleep apnea, and the concerns over drivers falling asleep while operating a commercial motor vehicle. The court found the medical examination to be job-related and consistent with business necessity because it is intended to reduce safety risks. The Eighth Circuit also noted that a DOT advisory committee had recently recommended that carriers take steps to prevent accidents related to sleep apnea.

This decision opens the door for employers to take more aggressive preventative measures to detect and deal with possible safety risks linked to an employee’s medical condition. While the link between the medical condition and safety concern must be demonstrable, the case shows that employers do not have to wait until an employee begins exhibiting safety problems before they can act to head off such risks.