Proclaiming that "statutory interpretation requires judges to use a little common sense," the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that an employer lawfully required an employee to undergo a psychiatric/psychological fitness-for-duty examination because of his obstreperous conduct with management and Human Resources personnel and because an independent psychologist recommended such an examination due to safety concerns. The employee's legal attack on the examination, and in particular, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) exam, was rejected - the facts satisfied the Americans with Disabilities Act's dual requirements for medical testing of an employee, that it be "job-related" and "consistent with business necessity." Owusu-Ansah v. Coca-Cola Co., No. 11-13663 (11th Cir. May 8, 2013).
In Owusu-Ansah, an agitated employee complaining to his supervisor of alleged on-the-job discrimination and harassment, banged his hand on the table, and shouted that someone was "going to pay for this." Concerned by this potentially threatening behavior, the employer sent the employee to an independent psychologist specializing in crisis management and threat assessment. Meanwhile, the employee refused to discuss his alleged discrimination concerns with his second-level manager.
An independent psychologist concluded that the employee was "very stressed and agitated" and might be "delusional." The psychologist was unable to complete an evaluation on the employee due to his non-cooperation, and recommended to the company that he undergo a fitness-for-duty exam, "to identify whether there were any issues that could represent a risk to the safety of others in the workplace." The employee attended one session with a psychiatrist before resisting the MMPI. Ultimately he took the exam and was cleared to return to work.
The Court ruled that the "job-related" and "business necessity" requirements for medical testing were satisfied by the employer's reasonable, objective concern about the employee's mental stability, which affected his job performance and could have threatened the safety of other employees. Handling "reasonably necessary stress" and working reasonably well with others were recognized as essential functions of any position. Moreover, the employer's responsibility to provide a safe and secure workplace was also deemed a business necessity.