Employment health screenings can determine if job candidates or new hires can successfully perform their job responsibilities. While these health screenings might seem intimidating if you're a new or prospective hire, employment health screenings help keep all employees in the workplace safe and productive. It's also important to remember that there are legal protections in place for both employees and employers.
In this article, we discuss what a health screening for employment is, what the legal guidelines are for employment health screenings and how to prepare for your employment health assessment.
What is a health screening for employment?
A health screening for a job is a medical test an employer asks you to complete. Employers may ask you to take a health assessment either during your job application process or after you have recently accepted a job offer. The specific type of health screening depends on factors such as your geographic location and the specific responsibilities of the job. Types of employment health screenings include:
- Routine physical examination
- Drug and/or alcohol test
- Heart health test
- Physical ability test, such as running or weight-lifting
- Psychological test
Why do managers use employment health screenings?
Employers typically ask prospective or new employees to take an employment health screening to see if they can perform their job functions. Aspiring and current firefighters, for instance, often take fitness ability tests because their jobs require physical stamina, speed and strength.
Employers also want to check for any potential health risks an employee might pose to themselves or others in the workplace. For example, if a warehouse employee has a medical condition that makes it challenging for them to lift heavy boxes, that employee might accidentally injure themselves or a coworker through improper lifting techniques.
What are the legal guidelines for employment health assessments?
Health screenings for jobs must adhere to several sets of legal guidelines at the national, state and, sometimes, regional level. Here are some national guidelines:
National guidelines for pre-employment health screenings
Under U.S. federal law, employers can't ask prospective employees to talk about or take a health screening test that aims to detect disabilities, chronic illnesses, mental health or physical ailments as this constitutes discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, employers may ask applicants to undergo pre-employment assessments related specifically to completing the job responsibilities. Basically, the difference depends on the design of the test and the employer's intent.
A prospective police officer, for instance, might take a physical fitness test before getting hired. The test must incorporate duties that a police officer would reasonably need to complete, such as a short sprint or lifting a certain amount of weight, rather than be a general test intended to uncover underlying health issues.
National guidelines for new hire health screenings
After a person receives a conditional job offer, more types of employment health screenings become legal under U.S. federal law. If you have a contingent job offer, employers can legally ask you to undergo a routine physical examination, a heart health test or another type of health screening.
Under the ADA, employers can ask for conditional new hires to take a health screening if:
- All the candidates for that job must go through the same health assessment.
- The new hire's medical records are confidential and kept separate from all other records.
- The health screening results aren't used to discriminate against the new hires.
Read more: What Is a Contingent Job Offer?
National guidelines for certain professions or fields
Some federal laws set standards for specific jobs that prospective and current employees must legally meet. For professions with these national legal guidelines, employers can only hire employees that meet federal standards. For example, federal law requires truck drivers to have good eyesight so that they can clearly see and navigate the road, passing cars, pedestrians and other potential driving hazards. Certain vision-related conditions prohibit individuals from working as a truck driver.
Can employers reject you for a job because of an employment health screening?
If you worry about having your conditional job offer taken away because of your health screening results, it may be comforting to know that you can't legally lose your job offer because of an existing medical condition. If an employer takes a job offer from you because of a disability or chronic illness, the ADA considers that discrimination.
Employers can only withdraw a conditional job offer after your health screening if the screening shows you cannot perform the job responsibilities safely even with reasonable accommodation. Reasonable accommodations are adjustments to your work responsibilities or environment that would allow you to complete your job duties.
For example, consider a new employee that completes a health screening showing they have trouble with motor control. If the new employee can complete their job functions with reasonable accommodations, such as finger guides mounted onto their keyboard, then the employer must provide those accommodations, according to the ADA.
Types of health screenings for jobs
Here are several common types of employment health screenings:
1. Drug and alcohol tests
Managers can only give drug and alcohol tests if you have a conditional job offer. Drug and alcohol tests might test your saliva, sweat, hair or urine for the presence of drugs or alcohol. Generally, you have to make an appointment at an outside facility to complete this screening, and the company may report your results directly to your employer.
2. Routine physical examination
A routine physical examination is a general assessment of your overall health. Your usual doctor might conduct the physical exam for your job or your employer might select a physician. The doctor might test your reflexes, vision and hearing and ask you general questions about your health.
3. Heart health
Your physical exam may include a heart health test or you may need to complete it separately. The doctor may listen to your heartbeat with a stethoscope, take your pulse and check your blood pressure. You may also get a blood test to measure your levels of cholesterol, sodium or potassium.
4. Physical ability tests
Physical ability tests can assess your physical endurance, strength, flexibility or speed. These tests might include running laps, performing simple exercises like pushups or lifting a certain amount of weight. You are usually only asked to complete a physical ability test if your job requires employees to be physically fit, such as policing or working in a warehouse.
5. Psychological tests
A psychological employment health screening can come in several different forms. Some tests are relatively simple, such as personality or aptitude tests that employers use to gain a better understanding of your work style and capabilities. Therapists or psychologists may conduct other psychological tests. These tests may ask about your emotional well-being, history with depression or situations that make you anxious. Employers typically use these types of employment psychological health screenings to assess if you might need any reasonable accommodations to care for your mental health.
Tips for preparing for your employment health screening
Here is some advice for preparing for your employment health screening:
1. Be in your best physical condition
The day before the exam, take the following steps to help make sure you are prepared and at ease:
- Minimize your exposure to loud sounds that could affect your hearing.
- Get a good night's sleep.
- Limit your intake of substances that might affect your body. For instance, if you know that caffeine sometimes increases your heart rate, consider switching to herbal tea a few hours before your exam.
- Eat nutritious meals.
- If you have a physical ability exam, do some stretches or light exercising.
- Drink plenty of water.
2. Show up with everything you might need
Check with your potential employer and any other entities involved in your screenings about what items to bring. Depending on the nature of your assessment, you may need the following items:
- A valid ID
- A list of your current over the counter and prescription medications
- Assistive devices, such as your glasses or hearing aids
- A list of your health conditions, allergies and past surgeries
- Paperwork from your employer about specific services or lab orders
3. Try to relax
Although health screenings for jobs can be stressful, do your best to stay calm. The physician, psychologist or other health professional conducting your health exam only wants to assess your health accurately. Remember that your employer requires a health screening because they want you to perform your job safely and successfully. Answer questions about your medical history honestly. If you are unsure what a particular question means, it's okay to ask the physician or psychologist to rephrase it.