Occupational Health Issues

Fitness For Duty Exams a Valuable Tool
Michael Davis - IWIRC Corp.

It happens every day in business. For one reason or another, employers suspect a worker can’t do the job that he or she was hired to do. What does the employer do about it?

In the field of occupational medicine, an employer can request what is called a fitness for duty examination (FFD). An FFD is a one-time examination performed by the occupational medicine specialist in order to address specific concerns of the employer. Usually, these concerns fall into one of two categories. The first category is the concern for employee safety or well-being on the job.

For instance, an employee has returned from a non-work-related illness and faints as he walks through the employer’s front door. He states that he only “got a little light-headed” and will be fine. He even hands the employer a full-duty, return-to-work slip from his own physician. The employer is concerned for his worker’s safety and those around him because he is a forklift driver. What is the next step? The employee needs to be seen by a specialist—an occupational medicine specialist. This physician can determine whether or not the employee is safe to drive that forklift, if there are other tasks he can do safely while at work, or if he should be working at all.

The second category of FFD involves performance-related circumstances. There are times when an employer notices a decrease in production or an inordinate amount of effort exerted by a worker, or hears that an employee has medical or physical issues adversely affecting his or her performance. When these circumstances arise and medical or physical issues are involved, an FFD can be requested. Consider a scenario when a once-hard-working employee is observed taking breaks every 10 minutes and seems out of breath. Co-workers have stated that they are concerned, as she appears to be disheveled and tired in the mornings and often absent-minded throughout the day. Again, in this circumstance, the FFD may be a way to identify potential medical or physical problems the worker is having and impeding on her work performance.

A word of caution regarding the FFD—an employer needs to have a medical/physical or safety reason for sending the worker to a specialist. The legal community frowns on fishing expeditions for employee information or using an FFD as a tool for “retiring” an undesirable employee. A simple way to begin the process when the employer has a concern about an employee is to write down the specifics regarding him or her. Is it a safety or performance concern? What objective information has been gathered that causes the concern? Secondly, in a couple of sentences, write the specific question(s) that the occupational medicine specialist is to address.

The FFD can be a valuable tool to help protect workers and the work environment. If you have questions regarding these evaluations, contact your occupational medicine provider. IBI

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