Many people worry that having a mental or physical condition could affect their ability to find employment in the state of California. For this reason, concerned job applicants often wonder whether it is legal for a potential employer to ask them to take a medical exam as part of the interview process. If you have a physical or mental disability, it’s important to understand your rights so you recognize when they are being violated.

There are both state and federal laws that prohibit employers from discriminating against someone because of their disability. Some people make the mistake of assuming that employers are only prohibited from discriminating against their employees, but that’s not the case. The laws also protect disabled individuals who are applying for jobs. This means disabled individuals are protected from discrimination even before they are officially hired by an employer.

Here’s what you need to know if you have a mental or physical disability and are in the process of applying for jobs:

Defining Disability

Before learning whether it is legal to ask a job applicant to take a medical exam, it’s important to understand how the law defines “disability.” A disability is any mental or physical condition that severely limits a major life activity. Some examples of mental and physical disabilities include impaired hearing, diabetes, HIV/AIDs, loss of a limb, bipolar disorder, and clinical depression.

Certain learning and cognitive disabilities can also qualify as a mental disability in California. These are known as “special education” disabilities, and they include conditions such as dyslexia, developmental aphasia, and brain injuries. Anyone who is legally considered disabled is protected by both state and federal laws, however the state laws offer broader protections than the federal laws.

Discrimination in Job Interviews

Employers are required to evaluate each job applicant based on their prior employment history, education, perceived skill set, and value that they will add to the company. Employers cannot, however, make hiring decisions based on whether or not someone has a disability.

During a job interview, employers are legally prohibited from asking applicants questions about their medical history. Even if a disability is obvious, an employer cannot ask for more information about it during an interview. Here are some examples of questions that should never be asked during an interview:

  • Are you currently taking any prescription medication?
  • Have you ever been treated for a disease or health condition?
  • Have you ever been hospitalized?
  • Have you ever had to take a leave of absence due to a medical condition?

The only question that employers are allowed to ask in regards to an applicant’s medical condition is whether or not the applicant would be able to perform the duties of the job. Besides this question, the topic must be avoided.

Employers are also not permitted to ask an applicant to take a medical exam as part of the interview process.

Why are these requests and questions prohibited in job interviews? It is safe to assume that any employer who wants to know more about an applicant’s medical condition wants this information so it can be used to make a hiring decision. But, making a hiring decision based on someone’s disability is a form of illegal discrimination, which is why employers should not make these requests or ask these questions during job interviews.

When Are Applicants Required to Take Medical Exams?

It is illegal to require an applicant to take a medical exam as part of the interview process, but there are certain situations where an employer can legally ask someone to take a medical exam.

Employers have the right to make a job offer to an applicant on the condition that the applicant takes and passes a medical exam. However, the employer cannot pick which applicants should be required to take medical exams. For example, let’s say an employer is hiring three people for the same job. If he extends job offers to three applicants and only asks one of them to take a medical exam, this is discrimination. It is not discrimination if all three applicants must take a medical exam in order to get the job.

An employer can also ask someone to take a medical exam once they have been hired. But, this request can only be made when the results of a medical exam are needed to support an employee’s reasonable accommodation request. For instance, an employee who asks to be reassigned to another position because of a physical disability may be asked to take a medical exam. In this case, the employer may want to review the results of the medical exam to determine if the employee truly needs to be reassigned because of a health condition.

Finally, employers can ask an employee to take a medical exam if they have reason to believe the employee’s disability is interfering with their ability to perform their job duties. But, the employer must have a valid reason to think that the employee cannot safely or successfully perform their job duties. The request to take a medical exam cannot be made in an attempt to embarrass or threaten the disabled employee.

If a medical exam is taken, the employer has a legal duty to keep the results of the exam confidential. This means the medical results should not be stored with the employee’s performance reviews and other documents.

Do you believe that you were discriminated against because of a physical or mental condition? If so, seek legal representation as soon as possible. Employers that violate state or federal law by discriminating against disabled employees can face serious consequences. The employment law attorneys at Shegerian & Associates will fight tirelessly for justice to hold your employer accountable for their discriminatory behavior. Contact us today by calling 1-800-GOT-FIRED.