Pre-Employment Physicals

Have you been asked to pass a physical exam, either before an employer extended a job offer or during the interview process? Depending on the type of exam, the nature of the job, and other factors, it’s often legal for a prospective employer to ask candidates to take a physical exam. But there are conditions on what the employer can ask, what type of exam can be performed, and when examinations can take place.

Most of the rules pertaining to pre-employment physical exams are covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act. The ADA applies to private companies with 15 or more employees, as well as state and local government employers, employment agencies, and labor organizations.

This legislation makes it illegal to discriminate against employees or job seekers based on disability. It also covers a number of other potential areas of discrimination, such as transportation, public accommodations, and access to state and local services.

Legal Guidelines

To protect job applicants against discrimination, the ADA prohibits requiring a medical exam prior to extending a job offer. However, employers are allowed to ask prospective employees to take a medical exam after a conditional job offer is made, as long as they require all applicants for the same job to undergo an exam. They can also ask job applicants to describe or demonstrate how they would perform specific job functions prior to extending an offer.

Passing a physical can be a condition of employment. Employment examinations may include physical exams and health inquiries including drug and alcohol tests, psychological tests, and physical or mental health assessments.

In addition, employees may be required to have physicals if health or fitness is a job requirement; for example, police officers or firefighters may be asked to demonstrate physical fitness necessary to perform the functions of their job.

Employers covered by federal laws against disability discrimination may require a pre-employment physical examination to determine the suitability of an individual for a job. Drug testing and physical ability tests may also be required as a condition of employment.


A physical examination can be required by a company for new hires if all other candidates for the same job category were also required to have an examination.

The results of the exam itself cannot discriminate against the worker, and his or her medical records and history must be kept confidential and separate from their other records. It is also expected that the person running the test or assessment will fully understand the expectations of the job in order to determine if the potential employee would be able to complete the duties required by that job.

Employers are also required to make “reasonable accommodation” for candidates with disabilities in order to enable them to be considered for a job opening. They cannot refuse to consider candidates with disabilities who require accommodation.

Physical Ability Tests

Physical ability tests measure the physical ability of an applicant to perform a particular task or the strength of specific muscle groups, as well as strength and stamina in general.

Physical ability tests may be conducted for potential employees in the manual and physical labor sectors. Abilities such as stamina, flexibility, and strength are normally considered. For example, employers may ask job seekers to prove that they can lift a set amount of weight, if doing so is part of the routine duties of the job.

Some parts of a physical ability test can include muscular tension and power, endurance, cardiovascular health, flexibility, balance, and attitude under physical strain.

Physical ability tests are often the basis of many employment-based legal battles. Women, minorities, and the elderly are often subject to inequitable or uneven testing. Furthermore, certain conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure, heart problems, and other health problems are cited differently under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

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