Q&A: Soliciting medical information from job candidates

Q: What medical questions can be asked on job applications and during an interview?
A: Employers cannot ask any questions on applications or during the interview that are likely to elicit information about a disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and subsequent amendments also prohibits employers from conducting medical exams before an offer of employment is made even if they are related to the job.
During the hiring process, the focus of any inquiry should be on the candidate’s ability to perform the essential functions of the job, not on factors that would reveal whether the person has a disability. Hiring managers can use a current job description to determine whether a candidate can perform the duties of the job. The individual can be asked to describe how he would perform each duty or responsibility.

It is also permissible to provide information on attendance requirements (e.g., regular work hours, leave policies, and any special attendance needs of the job such as working overtime) and ask if the candidate will be able to meet these requirements with or without reasonable accommodation as long as they apply to all employees in a particular job. Questions about work attendance with previous employers may also be asked during reference checks if inquiries don’t refer to illness or disability.

Medical exams and inquiries into a person’s workers’ compensation claims history can be conducted after an offer of employment is made as long as this is done for all entering employees in a particular job category. For example, people who are required to hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and have received an offer of employment can be asked about the results of medical exams and drug tests.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ADA Technical Assistance Manual identifies several questions that are not permissible, including the following:

  • Is there any health-related reason you may not be able to perform the job for which you are applying?
  • Do you have any disabilities or impairments which may affect your performance in the position for which you are applying?
  • Have you had a major illness in the last 5 years?
  • Have you ever been treated for drug addiction or alcoholism?
  • Have you ever filed for workers' compensation insurance?
  • How many days were you absent from work because of illness last year?
Information on the ADA is available on the EEOC Web Site and the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). HR Services recently presented the webinar Accommodating Disabilities in the Workplace. Access to a recording is available for purchase on the HR Services online training page. Additional information is also included in the Employment Section of the HR Library.