Human Resources News & Insights

Answers to tricky HR questions: What’s the rule on mandatory physicals for new hires?

Our team of experts fields real-life, everyday questions from HR managers and gives practical answers that can be applied by any HR pro in the same situation. Today’s question: What are the limitations on having new hires take physical exams as a requirement for employment?

We’re considering mandatory new-hire physicals, but we want to make sure we’re following all the rules and regulations.

What should we watch out for? And is it legal to request a physical before actually hiring the person?

Upon making an offer of employment – but not before – you can require a physical exam so long as you meet two criteria, according to employment lawyer Jane Dalton:

1. The physicals are given to all new hires who fill similarly situated positions, and

2. The results are kept confidential and used only to determine whether the person can perform the essential functions of the job.

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  1. Jackie T - SPHR says:

    My company does pre-employment physicals for each new hire. We have a standard protocol and a common form used with our doctor’s office which defines which tests (physical exams) are given for which positions so we follow the same, non-discriminatory practices. Our job descriptions also have very specific physical requirements so if we are ever asked why we do certain tests for certain jobs, we can point the the fact that it is a job related requirement. Our offer letter, which must be signed before they are scheduled for the DT and physical, is very specific that the offer is contingent on the applicant successfully passing the DT and physical requirements.

    This process has served us well and helps ensure we aren’t putting an applicant at risk or defines any accommodation that may need to be made relative to a specific duty or job requirement.

  2. I’ve noticed that more and more companies in our area are requiring physicals (if hired). I can see the need for the physicals since applicants tell you they can work like a horse only to find out otherwise after they begin. (They say “oh yes, I can work like a horse I just can’t lift over 10 pounds, twist at all or bend) I’ve recently seen an addition to the pre employment drug screen process; Some companies require an alcohol and nicotine screen. Are there legal parameters on that type of screening? What would you do? Advertise that your company requires this screening and physical process as part of the Help Wanted Ad or Employment Application?

  3. We currently perform drug tests and new-hire physicals for all new employees. We are considering dropping the physical screening portion for employees who primarily sit at a desk. Is it legally defensible to only perform physicals on employee job groups that require a high level of physical labor rather than your entire employee populaton. Also, is anyone willing to share the form they use when requesting physicals? Thanks much.

  4. Dianne Lahl says:

    To: Sarah Davila

    We have a very effective form for the physical exam we require for our new maintenance employees. I’d be happy to send it to you via email.

    Dianne Lahl
    Lakewood, OH

  5. After my interview, I was asked to do a physical and drug test, and they also called my current employer for reference and made my life in hell there, but they never offered me the position. Is that legal ? ( I am confident that I passed the physical and the drug test )

  6. Jackie T - SPHR says:

    June –
    The company you were interviewing with should have done the physical/drug test AFTER an offer of employment. The reference is another story, but many companys will ask your permission before calling a curent employer (and will do references first with past employers). Companies who do drug tests/physicals BEFORE an offer are opening themselves up to lawsuits as an applicant could always claim that the offer was not made because of something found during that process. Never a good idea to start that process without a written offer that states the offer is contingent on the succesful completion of the drug test and physical. You have a right to a copy of the medical report/drug test results under the Fair Credit Reporting Act since the clinic is a 3rd party doing testing on behalf of the employer.

  7. Jackie:

    Thank you for your information, I thought something was wrong, but I could not get my hands on the ADA law regarding the physical and drug testing until today.

    I have been through 6 interviews with them and all of them pretty much told me that they liked me and I was qualified. The plant manager even coached me how to deal with the area manager’s interview.

    I also noted on my application that please do not contact my current employer unless the employment was offered. They called my current employer, and asked me to do the physical & drug testing a couple days later, the implication made me assuming that I got the job. Then I never heard from them again.

    In the mean time, my current employer is not happy with me, now I have no choice but keep looking for a new job.

    Well, you learn something new everyday.

  8. We have a post-offer health history questionairre that we have all new hires do. If there are no apparent potential health problems (physical limitations) revealed in this, we do not go any further with a PT Eval. If so, however, they will be scheduled for an Occupational Medicine visit and the attending physician will either clear the candidate or further schedule them for a PT Eval based on the physical requirements of the job description.

    Does this sound like are functioning within the legal requirements with repect to our screening process?

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