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Quick Facts About the Americans with Disabilities Act Medical Exams, Illegal Use of Drugs Are Frequent Topics of Concern

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recently celebrated its 23rd anniversary. Title I of the ADA prohibits private employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.

Did you know . . .

Title I of the ADA also covers medical examinations and inquiries.

  • Employers may not ask job applicants about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability. Applicants may be asked about their ability to perform specific job functions.
  • A job offer may be conditioned on the results of a medical examination, but only if the examination is required for all entering employees in similar jobs.
  • Medical examinations of employees must be job related and consistent with the employer’s business needs. 

Medical records are confidential.

  • The basic rule is that, with limited exceptions, employers must keep confidential any medical information they learn about an applicant or employee.
  • Information can be confidential even if it contains no medical diagnosis or treatment course and even if it is not generated by a health care professional. For example, an employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation would be considered medical information subject to the ADA’s confidentiality requirements. 

Employees and applicants currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs are not covered by the ADA when an employer acts on the basis of such use. 

  • Tests for illegal drugs are not subject to the ADA’s restrictions on medical examinations.
  • Employers may hold illegal drug users and alcoholics to the same performance standards as other employees.

For More Information 
In addition to a variety of formal guidance documents, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has made available a wide range of fact sheets, Q&A documents, and other materials related to ADA compliance on its Disability Discrimination website.

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HR Works, headquartered in Upstate New York, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States for over thirty years. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.