What is a ‘Fitness for Duty’ Assessment, and Can My Employer Make Me Take One?

What is a ‘Fitness for Duty’ Assessment, and Can My Employer Make Me Take One?

A Fitness for Duty Assessment (FFD) is a mental health evaluation in which a psychologist performs tests and provides feedback about an employee’s mental fitness to perform a specific job. These evaluations are usually done when a circumstance occurs that may impair an employee from successfully doing their job.

Employers can request an FFD to manage risk, safety and productivity in the workplace.

For example, if a power company employee who repairs high voltage lines threatens suicide, it would be appropriate for the employer to refer the employee for an FFD assessment. The psychologist would evaluate the risk of the employee following through on the threat. The safety of the employee and others in the workplace would also be evaluated

What to Expect

An FFD includes three components:

  1. Clinical Interview: The psychologist talks with the employee in a private office setting.
  2. Collateral Interview(s): The psychologist talks with the employees’ close loved ones or significant others.
  3. Psychological Testing: The psychologist administers psychological tests and then interprets them.

“The goal of the FFD assessment is to determine how these factors work together to understand if an employee is currently able to perform his or her job safely,” says Selina Hill-Lee, PhD, a member of Pine Rest’s Forensic Psychiatric and Psychological Services. “The role of the forensic psychologist is to provide an unbiased opinion based on history, interview(s) and test results.”

Clinical Interview

The clinical interview allows you to talk with the psychologist on an individual basis. The psychologist will typically ask questions about childhood history, current struggles and your plans. These evaluations typically hinge on a specific incident. The clinical interview time allows you to speak directly with the assessor about the identified incident from your perspective.

Collateral Interview

The collateral interview is a time for the psychologist to speak with someone that knows you well and can speak to your history. This person is usually a spouse, parent, supervisor or co-worker. These interviews help the psychologist obtain an accurate representation of you are and how that pertains to your role as an employee.

Says Dr. Hill-Lee, “The collateral interviews help me understand an employee as a whole person. It allows me to gain insight as to what he or she is like most of the time.”

Can My Employer Make Me Take an FFD Assessment?

Employers have the right to ask their employees to undergo an FFD assessment. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “With respect to employees, an employer may ask questions about disability or require medical examinations only if doing so is job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

This means that if one or more employees are potentially unsafe due the state of mind of one employee, the employer can request an FFD. However, the reason for the assessment must be job-related.

Example:

When an employee has PTSD…

  • The employee’s ability to do their job is not impacted or the employee is not a threat to other employees, then the PTSD is not a valid reason for the employer to pursue an assessment.
  • If an employee is suffering from severe depression related to the PTSD and/or is possibly suicidal, and works with dangerous equipment, it is appropriate for the employer to pursue an assessment from a trained forensic psychologist.

Employers can also request medical information if there is objective evidence that the employee may be unable to perform their job adequately or safely according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It is important to note that these assessment measures cannot be used to screen out an individual with a disability or a class of disabled individuals per the Legal Information Institute.

If an employee feels this request is unfair in any way, the individual has the right to contest the request or resign. If an employee decides to pursue legal action against their workplace, it is strongly advised to obtain legal counsel in that process.

By Pine Rest staff. Reviewed by Selina Hill Lee, PhD.

Dr. Selina Hill Lee received her PhD from Tennessee State University. She has training providing forensic assessments for court ordered adolescents and adults, which included cognitive testing and evaluating competency. These evaluations often included recommendations and placement in the community. She has worked with Pine Rest since 2009.

Dr. Hill Lee’s current practice includes an active therapy caseload, supervising a team of master’s level clinicians, as well as providing general and forensic assessment for adults and children.


References
  1. Employment Tests and Selection Procedures, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  2. Disability Discrimination, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  3. Section 12112. Discrimination, Cornell Law School

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