A Balancing Act-Compliance with the ADA And Use of Medical Examinations of Employees


By: Joyce Mocek
The Eleventh Circuit has held that an employer can lawfully require psychiatric/psychological fitness-for-duty evaluations if it has sufficient objective information to believe an employee is unstable and may pose a danger to others in the workplace.  In Owusu-Ansah v. Coca-Cola Co., No. 11-13663 (11th Cir.), an employee during a meeting banged his hand on a table and stated that someone was “going to pay for this.”  The employer was concerned by the employee’s actions and statement and conducted an investigation, which required the employee to meet with a consulting psychologist, psychiatrist and management.  The employer also required the employee to undergo a psychiatric fitness-for-duty evaluation based on the recommendations.
The ADA provides that any medical examination must be “job-related” and “consistent with business necessity.” 42 U.S.C. Section 12112(d)(4)(A).  The employee sued his employer under this provision of the ADA.  The Eleventh Circuit held that the psychiatric evaluation ordered by the employer in Owusu-Ansah did not violate the ADA because there was sufficient objective evidence to justify the evaluation.
Employers must balance the requirements of the ADA with the need to maintain a safe working environment.  This is often a difficult balancing act.  The court’s instruction in Owusu-Ansah confirms that a psychiatric fitness-for-duty examination may be acceptable; however, the employer must have sufficient objective evidence and justification before requiring such an examination so as to avoid violating the ADA.