By Richard J. Lehmann – New Hampshire Employment Lawyer
The Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) protects employees from being fired, demoted, or denied a promotion based on physical or mental disability. Questions about ADA protections often arise when an employer uses physical or mental tests or evaluations to make hiring or promotion decisions.
The basic rule is that employers may use medical tests or exams when the physical or mental characteristic being tested is related to the job to be performed and is a business necessity. For example, firefighters typically have to pass periodic physical tests to ensure that they are capable of performing the physical work required for their job. A firefighter who is unable to carry hoses, breathing apparatus, and other equipment is unable to perform the main function of the job. That kind of physical test is permissible.
What is not allowed, however, is for employers to test their employees for characteristics that are not directly related to the job. For example, it is completely irrelevant if a telephone operator is unable to run a ten-minute mile. Testing a physical limitation when the job does not require physical skills violates the ADA.
A closer call can arise when employers use mental evaluations to establish personality traits. These tests are becoming more and more common during the hiring phase and even when employers consider candidates for promotion. Psychological tests that measure personality traits, such as honesty, preferences, and habits are permitted. However, psychological tests that are designed to identify a mental disorder or impairment are medical examinations and are prohibited by the ADA.
Employers may have many reasons to want to know about an employees medical or psychological condition. Some of these are valid and others violate the ADA. Determining whether a particular test is allowed under the law requires a complicated balancing of factors. If you have questions about physical or mental tests or examinations at work, you should consult with an experienced employment lawyer.