HR Question: Requesting a Fit-for-Duty Certification

Question: If a new hire volunteers information about medical issues, can the employer ask for a doctor's fit-for-duty certification?

Answer:  Exercise caution in requesting medical documentation from applicants or employees, unless the applicant or employee is specifically requesting some form of accommodation in order to do his/her job or the employer has directly observed or has evidence that the employee is having difficulty in the job due to some type of limitation. If the employee discloses the information in the interview and/or onboarding process without a request for accommodation, we recommend the interviewer ask the employee if accommodation is requested. If not, then we recommend moving the conversation on to the bona fide requirements of the job. An employer should consider the following questions before requesting a fitness- for-duty medical certification:

Did the applicant or employee ask for an accommodation? If so, then requesting medical certification and suggestions in order to aid the applicant/employee may be appropriate. Does the employer request this information for all employees/applicants for the same position? If the employer is considering asking for medical certification based upon the new hire's health disclosure AND the new hire is not requesting any form of accommodation in order to do the job, then we recommend NOT asking for that medical certification unless the employer asks for it for all new hires in that position on a routine basis.

From a practical perspective, an employer should gather medical information only if there are concerns about the employee's ability to perform the essential functions of the job, considering any physical or mental limitations. An employer should request and consider only the information that is "job related and consistent with business necessity". Here are a few scenarios where requesting a medical fitness for duty certification may be appropriate:

  • The employee has admitted that his medical condition may be linked to performance problems and has requested assistance (i.e. his medications are making him forgetful, he is not taking the medications because they make him dizzy and he needs to work in high places, etc);
  • The employer has knowledge that an employee's medical condition may potentially pose a safety or health hazard to himself or others (i.e. an employee with seizures driving a delivery truck);
  • The employer directly observes severe symptoms that indicate that there is a medical condition that impairs performance or could be a threat to the health and safety of the employee or others.

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