ADA Violated By Routine Physical, Psychological Examinations

Written on 05/13/2022
Will Aitchison

Officer James LaCroix and Detec­tive Renee Payne-Callender are mem­bers of the Boston Police Department. On March 6, 2015, LaCroix sustained back and hip injuries while he was on duty. LaCroix was placed on leave due to his injuries and remained out of work until he was cleared to return by his doctors in December 2018, The Department notified LaCroix that he would also be required to be examined by BPD’s psychiatrist, Dr. Brown, be­fore returning to work because he had been on leave for more than six months. Dr. Brown eventually approved LaC­roix’s return to work.

Payne-Callender went on extended leave after she injured her right Achilles tendon while on duty on February 28, 2018. Payne-Callender was eventually cleared to return to work by her doctor on January 11, 2019. BPD informed Payne-Callender that she would not be fully cleared to return to work without a psychological examination by Dr. Brown, who eventually cleared her return to work.

Although BPD does not have a written policy regarding examinations following extended leaves of absence, it has been BPD’s consistent practice that officers must be cleared by at least one BPD clinician before they may return to work after an extended leave. Under the policy, officers who have been on leave for three or months must undergo a physical examination by a BPD clinician prior to returning to work. Officers using more than six months of leave must also undergo a psychological examination.

LaCroix and Payne-Callender and their labor organizations sued the City under the Americans with Disabilities Act, contending the mandatory exam­ination policies violated the privacy provisions of the ADA. Under the ADA, an employer can only make inquiries as to an employee’s medical condition if it has reasons for doing so that are “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

A federal trial court ruled that the City’s policies were illegal. The Court found that “even accepting arguendo that the BPD blanket policy regarding examinations for officers returning from leave is job-related, BPD still must show that its examination requirement is consistent with business necessity. The business necessity standard is quite high and is not to be confused with mere expediency. The examination must, at minimum, be limited to an evaluation of the employee’s condition only to the extent necessary under the circumstances to establish the employ­ee’s fitness for the work at issue.

“A medical examination is job-re­lated and consistent with business ne­cessity if the employer has a reasonable belief based on objective evidence that a medical condition will impair an employee’s ability to perform essential job functions or that the employee will pose a threat due to a medical condi­tion. BPD argues that it has a business necessity for requiring examinations prior to officers returning to work after an extended leave, asserting that it is incumbent upon the Department to complete an assessment of the individ­ual’s physical and mental well-being before returning the officer to active duty. It also argued that mental health issues are often overlooked and un­derreported, which, in the context of armed police officers, could have very serious consequences for the safety of officers and the public.

“The Court, however, agrees with Plaintiffs that BPD has failed to establish business necessity to justify subjecting all officers to physical exam­ination and/or psychological examina­tion after three months and six months, respectively, when unrelated to an injury that caused the leave from the job. BPD’s policy applies to all officers returning from an extended leave even where there are no specific concerns about an individual’s ability to perform their job duties. Additionally, BPD has failed to present any evidence to establish that being on leave for three months or six months causes increased risk for physical and/or psychological conditions, respectively, that could negatively impact an officer’s job performance. The research BPD cites concerns negative health outcomes associated with being unemployed, not temporary workplace separation due to illness or injury, which is at issue here. BPD has not shown a legal basis for the specific timing of the examinations at three months and six months and not some shorter or greater duration.”

LaCroix v. Boston Police Depart­ment, No. 19-cv-11463 (D. Mass. 2022).

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