When can employers require pre-employment physicals?

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An employer whose operations include physically demanding work may want to ensure that a job applicant is in sufficient physical shape to safely meet the demands of the position for which he/she is being considered. However, there are substantial restrictions to an employer’s ability to require a job applicant to undergo a physical/medical examination under both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

  • Prior to employment offer: Employers may not require any physical/medical examination at this stage. Nor may employers make any inquiry about an applicant’s medical, physical or psychological condition. The only inquiry that an employer can initiate at this stage is the applicant’s ability to perform the essential functions of the job.
  • Post-offer of employment: Once an employer makes an offer of employment to the employee, that offer can be conditioned on the employee’s satisfactory completion of a physical examination if:
    1. The exam is job-related and consistent with business necessity (i.e., vital to the employer’s business interest); and
    2. All applicants for the same job position are subject to the same physical examination requirements.

As such, a post-offer pre-employment physical examination requirement cannot be arbitrarily imposed on any applicant for any reason and the requirement must be narrowly tailored for job positions that have requirements reasonably related to the examination. Moreover, if the results of the examination are not satisfactory and would result in disqualification of the applicant for the position, the applicant must be allowed to submit independent medical opinions for consideration. Requiring employees to undergo physical examinations at any stage of employment is a minefield and employers should seek the input of legal counsel before instituting such a requirement.