Hiring a New Employee: Can You Ask for a Medical History?

Some jobs are more physically demanding than others. The position may require lifting heavy weights or standing for long periods of time. When hiring someone for a physically demanding job, you want to know that person is fit for the job. Asking about a potential hire’s medical history seems like a good question to ask. It will get you the information you need to make an informed hiring decision.

The reality is that asking job applicants to give you a medical history can put you in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

What does the ADA say about medical history and the hiring process?

The Act prohibits employers from asking a job candidate for any type of medical history before making a formal offer of employment. This includes asking any questions related to medical conditions, hospital stays, or recent injuries.

When an employer extends an offer of employment, the Act does allow the company to make the offer conditional on the successful result of a medical exam or test. To comply with the Act, all employees hired for a particular job classification must undergo the same exam or test. To make it a condition only for select hires is a violation of the Act.

If an employer decides not to hire someone based on a failed medical exam or test, that company must do so only for job-related reasons. The employer needs to show that no reasonable accommodation can be made. The employer must also show a direct threat to the health and safety of the workplace if that person were to be hired.

Can an employer gain medical information in a way that does not violate the ADA?

Employers are allowed to ask questions that are relative to the position for which the person is applying. For example, a warehouse worker may need to lift 50 pounds or more quite often. An employer could ask a candidate if they are capable of lifting that amount of weight on a daily basis. The employer could not ask if they had a medical condition that would prevent them from lifting that amount of weight, however.

This allows the employer to gain valuable information without violating the ADA.

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