Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are restricted as to when and for what reason they may require employees or potential employees to submit to a medical examination.  For current employees, an employer may only compel a medical examination if such an examination is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.  A recent Sixth Circuit case, Kroll v. White Lake Ambulance Authority [pdf], clarifies the ADA’s definition of “medical examination.”

In 2003, Emily Kroll began working for White Lake Ambulance Authority as an emergency medical technician.  She was generally considered to be a “good employee” by her supervisor.  However, after an affair with a married co-worker, Kroll showed on-the-job distress which included several outbursts at work.  In response to these outbursts, Kroll’s supervisor told her that she must attend counseling in order continue her employment.  Kroll refused to participate in the required counseling, never returned to work, and sued for disability discrimination under the ADA.

The trial court dismissed the case concluding that “counseling alone does not constitute a medical examination under the ADA.”  Kroll appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to determine whether the required counseling constituted a “medical examination” under the ADA.  In answering this inquiry, the Court reviewed relevant EEOC Enforcement Guidance which defines a “medical examination” as “a procedure or test that seeks information about an individual’s physical or mental impairments or health.”  The Guidelines also specifically provide that “psychological tests that are designed to identify a mental disorder or impairment” are medical examinations, while “psychological tests that measure personality traits such as honesty, preferences, and habits” are not. 

Here, Kroll’s supervisor testified that he did not think that he used the term “psychological” in describing the required counseling.  However, when asked whether it would “be fair to say” that he had requested that Kroll “see a psychologist to discuss issues related to her mental health,” her supervisor responded affirmatively.  Based on this evidence, the Court concluded that Kroll had presented sufficient evidence such that a reasonable jury could conclude that the required psychological counseling constituted a medical examination. 

This ruling is significant to employers because it serves as an important clarification as to what constitutes a medical examination.  Additionally, this case is a reminder that any required “medical examination,” whether physical or psychological, must be job-related and consistent with business necessity.