PUBLISHED ON: December 31, 1997
A federal appeals court has ruled that a state employer may require a worker who is chronically absent to submit to a medical exam without violating the Americans With Disabilities Act. A state tax auditor with a history of absenteeism refused to let her employer review her medical records, according to the court. She then refused the state’s request to undergo a medical exam so it could determine if she was physically able to perform her assigned duties. She filed suit to prevent the state from requiring her to release her medical records or submit to an exam, or from disciplining her for not complying. The district court dismissed the suit, reasoning that the state was exempt from the ADA’s prohibition on such conduct based on business necessity. The auditor appealed.
The ADA prohibits employers from requiring medical exams to determine whether an employee has a disability or the “nature and severity” of a disability unless the exam is “job-related” and “consistent with business necessity.” Given that the auditor’s excessive absenteeism significantly reduced her productivity over a four- or five-year period and had caused disruption and morale problems in the office, the Ninth Circuit said the state had good reason to determine the nature of her disability and her ability to perform her job. When an employee’s health problems have a “substantial and injuries impact” on the person’s ability to perform job duties, the ADA’s business necessity exception allows the employer to require a medical exam even if it might disclose a disability or the extent of any disability, the court explained. (Yin v. State of California, CA 9, 1996, 5 AD Cases 1487).