Physical Readiness Tests & Standards: Issue #4


Title I and Title V of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that an employer focus only on the essential functions of the job when determining whether a person with a qualifying disability can do the job with or without reasonable accommodation.  The issue hinges on the job-relatedness of the standards.

An agency has the authority to set standards that may discriminate against a disabled person if:

  • the person cannot perform essential functions even with an accommodation;

  • the person’s disability poses significant risk of substantial harm to him/herself or others;

  • if any necessary accommodation would cause the agency “undue hardship.”

The major question is, “Can a person with a qualifying disability perform the essential physical functions?” Lack of physical readiness or fitness is not a disability.  However, since its inception the ADA has generated considerable controversy over physical fitness or readiness.  

            1. The ADA prohibits the gathering of medical information (through a screening or examination process) prior to a conditional offer of employment, but the ADA does allow an employer to conduct an "agility" tests prior to a conditional offer for hire. However, any type of agility or physical testing without screening violates the standard of "ordinary care" put forth by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association; therefore, complying with the ADA implies implementing a negligent screening process.  To comply with both mandates, some agencies require applicants secure physician approval or clearance to participate in agility or physical readiness/fitness testing.           

            2. Some experts have expressed the opinion that physical readiness or fitness tests are not appropriate because of the ADA.  While the ADA uses the terminology "agility" testing, the EEOC has determined that fitness tests are acceptable as, and meet the definition of, "agility" tests.  Therefore, the ADA does not render physical readiness or fitness tests unlawful.           

            3. Another aspect of the ADA with implications for physical readiness standards is the suggestion that there should be continuity between selection, training and incumbent standards.  That is, a selection standard is more defensible if incumbents must also meet a similar standard on an ongoing basis or if there is a plan in place for eventual incumbent requirements. 

The purpose of the ADA is to ensure that people who can perform the essential functions of the job are not denied employment because of their disability.  As noted, a lack of physical readiness/fitness, by itself, is not a disability. The ADA expands the protections and definitions provided by the original Civil Rights legislation of 1964.  It is likely an officer who cannot meet the agency’s physical readiness standards would have a very difficult time proving that they are both disabled and able to perform all the essential functions of the job.

Disclaimer: This and other information available on the FitForce website is intended for information and discussion purposes. Please consult your attorney for a legal opinion.