A company that tried to force a troubled staff member to seek psychological counseling is at the center of a new, important ADA ruling.
HR pros know that, under most circumstances, firms are prohibited from requiring employees to undergo medical exams under the Americans with Disabilities (ADA).
The only exception: if the employer can show the exam is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”
But could requiring medical counseling count as an exam? And if so, how can a company show that counseling is relevant to a staffer’s job so it doesn’t violate the ADA?
Here are the details of a new case that answers both of those questions.
Screaming while driving an ambulance
Emily Kroll served as an EMT for the White Lake Ambulance Authority in Michigan.
Her work performance was deemed fine until around the time she began an affair with a married co-worker.
After a number of outbursts at work, an office manager tried to convince Kroll to see a mental healthcare provider. Kroll agreed.
Kroll’s behavior then hit a breaking point when she allegedly got in a screaming match with her male acquaintance while driving an ambulance in “emergency status” (with sirens and lights on) while it contained a patient.
Kroll was told that she had to attend counseling in order to keep her job.
She said no way, walked out and sued for disability bias.
Does it qualify?
A lower court ruled in the company’s favor, finding that medical counseling doesn’t count as a “medical examination” under the ADA.
Hold the phone, said the Sixth Circuit on appeal.
The appeals court found that a psychological test that diagnoses mental health issues or reveals a mental illness is the type of harm the ADA is designed to prevent — and does qualify as a “medical examination.”
The appeals court remanded the case back to the lower court to determine if Kroll’s company’s request was job-related or consistent with business necessity.
Intentions don’t matter
Maria Danaher of Ogletree Deakins had two takeaways for employers regarding the case:
- The company said it was just trying to help Kroll do her job better and wasn’t trying to determine if she had a mental issue. But the court said that even if a company’s intentions are “disability neutral,” a test can still qualify as a “medical examination.”
- Firms will be on the hook from here on out to prove that requiring counseling is crucial for an employee to continue doing his or her job. How can you prove that? Document it. Show how the employee’s actions have been affecting his or her ability to do work.