Creating a Fitness for Duty Program for Assessing Physical Abilities to Work – Administrative Guidelines

26 Jul

Although the primary burden of legal compliance in FFD programs falls on employers, it is beneficial, if not imperative, that fitness for duty (FFD) evaluators help employers understand how to correctly implement and manage FFD programs for their employees. Administrative guidelines for implementation of an FFD program include:

    1. Identification of Essential Job Demands: Prior to conducting an FFD examination, the evaluator should ask the employer for either a list of essential physical demands for each job to be tested or more detailed functional job descriptions containing this information. FFD evaluators must understand the essential physical demands of a job to render accurate opinions about work ability and to establish valid pass/fail test criteria when using any job-simulated functional capacity tests.
    2. Creation of Job-Specific Test Protocols: The FFD evaluator should obtain or create FFD testing protocols that are specific for each job. For certain jobs and positions, the evaluator needs to be aware of federal FFD requirements (such as those of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, OSHA, Federal Aviation Authority, and U.S. Coast Guard) for certain jobs.
    3. Validation of Test Protocols: Before rolling out FFD tests, it is beneficial and legally protective to assess the validity of any job-specific functional capacity tests to be used in the FFD examination protocols. One way to test validity of these tests is to conduct the FFD tests on a sample of experienced current employees in each job, who in turn fill out questionnaires about how closely the test mirrors their work requirements. This method is common in heavy-manual-labor industries, such as energy and shipping, that typically test large numbers of employees. In short, pass/fail functional tests must closely resemble job duties. Any other tests, such as VO2 max tests, push-ups or sit ups, planking, or isometric strength tests, are only defensible if they can be validated to predict a worker’s abilities.These recommendations are important in avoiding discrimination. For example, using 50-pounds as a pass/fail criterion in a lift test for a woman who lifts only 20 pounds at work could be easy grounds for a lawsuit. Functional testing not based on job-task simulations may also lead to disgruntled job applicants who do not perceive a connection between the test and job demands. The withdrawal of a job offer based on a test failure that is not based on workplace reality is more likely to trigger an EEOC action than a test failure based on a valid functional test.
    4. Administration of FFD Tests: When possible, administration of FFD tests using job-simulated functional testing, unless alternative testing is based on federal requirements (e.g. DOT examinations), should begin after the functional test protocols have been validated. Before administering post-offer job-specific functional tests, it is preferable to conduct a thorough medical history, physical examination, and any special diagnostic tests (such as radiographs, MRI, urinalysis, VO2 max, or pulmonary tests). Vital signs should be monitored during physically demanding tests for safety. Pass/fail criteria for the FFD test should be clearly defined and followed in a consistent manner.
    5. Reporting FFD Test Outcomes: The FFD evaluator should determine how results of the FFD examination will be sent to human resource departments, such as by encrypted email or fax. Regardless of choice, the mechanism of communication should be secure. As with all medical records, medical information obtained through the FFD process and sent to the employer must be kept confidential and kept in a secure file separate from other employee records. When possible, it is advantageous for the FFD evaluator to maintain FFD reports on file for the employer.

Last, policies and procedures should be established for retesting anyone who fails an FFD test or is unable to complete it. When a job is available, the door should never be closed to retesting applicants who have been previously denied employment but have since corrected functional deficits or resolved medical conditions prohibiting their employment.

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