First of all, remember that there is a difference between applicants and employees, and the rules concerning disability-related inquiries and medical examinations are different at each stage.
May employers require employees to have periodic medical examinations?
No, with very limited exceptions for employees who work in positions affecting public safety, such as police officers, firefighters, or airline pilots. Even in these limited situations, the examinations must address specific job-related concerns.
For example, a police department could periodically conduct vision tests or electrocardiograms because of concerns about conditions that could affect the ability to perform essential job functions and thereby result in a direct threat. A police department could not, however, periodically test its officers to determine whether they are HIV-positive, because a diagnosis of this condition alone would not result in a direct threat.
May employers subject employees to periodic alcohol testing?
Generally, no. Employers, however, may subject employees who have been in alcohol rehabilitation programs to periodic alcohol testing where the employer has a reasonable belief that the employee will pose a direct threat in absence of such testing.
In determining whether to subject such an employee to periodic alcohol testing, the employer should consider the safety risks associated with the position the employee holds, the consequences of the employee's inability or impaired ability to do his or her job, and the reason(s) why the employer believes that the employee will pose a direct threat.
Of course, an employer may maintain and enforce rules prohibiting employees from being under the influence of alcohol in the workplace and may conduct alcohol testing for this purpose if it has a reasonable belief that an employee has been drinking during work hours.
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May an employer ask all employees what prescription medications they are taking?
Generally, no. In limited circumstances, however, employers may be able to ask employees in positions affecting public safety about their use of medications that may affect their ability to perform essential functions and thereby result in a direct threat.
For example, an airline could require pilots to report when they are taking medications that may affect their ability to fly. A fire department, however, could not require employees in administrative positions to report their use of medication because it is unlikely that these employees would pose a direct threat as a result of an inability, or impaired ability, to do their jobs.
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