Question: We have a candidate requesting a reasonable accommodation; what are our obligations?

We got a call into the FF World HQ's recently from a training officer at a department. The department was going to be conducting applicant fitness testing and were notified by a potential candidate that she would be requesting a reasonable accommodation for the sit up test and the 1.5 mile run portions of the battery. Apparently, this veteran self-reported she could not perform either event. The training officer was hoping to get some insight into whether or not the department must provide a reasonable accommodation.

In considering the agency's options, several issues must be observed:

This is a pre-conditional offer of employment physical test, therefore the agency may not make any medical inquiries yet.

Applicants seeking to participate in testing must be screened in to or out of physical testing to ensure their safety.

A clearance form provided by the department that includes the nature of the test, how it will be conducted and the safety measures taken during testing should have clear language that the examining physician can attest to the candidate's in/ability to safely participate in the test.

The clearance form should also include language that clearly states physical ability as evidenced by performance on the test is an essential function of the job and is related to the frequent and or critical tasks incumbent upon an officer; then cite the tasks.

The agency is bound under the ADA to provide a reasonable accommodation if it does not represent an undue hardship to the agency and/or the applicant's participation does not present a direct threat to their safety.

Because the applicant has requested a reasonable accommodation, the agency may ask what reasonable accommodation would enable the individual to safely participate in the physical test. OR

The agency may ask the individual to describe how or ask them to demonstrate how they would perform the essential functions of the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.

The agency does not have to provide the reasonable accommodation requested, just a reasonable accommodation, again, if it does not present an undue hardship to the agency.

In this particular instance, the agency would be placed in a position to potentially provide an equal, valid alternative test of both trunk muscular endurance and aerobic capacity which is demonstrably job related and which measures the minimum level of ability required to safely and effectively perform the job.

This validation of alternative tests may or may not be possible and may or may not represent an undue hardship to the agency.

In the final analysis, the ADA provides protection if the applicant is able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation. Because sit ups and running a mile and a half are likely not essential job functions, the department must articulate what functions they relate to and then determine whether or not the applicant can perform those functions. As always, a validation study that demonstatest the job relatedness of the test and standards to the job and policies and procedures which reinforce the consistency with business necessity of physical readiness are required for guidance and a successful defense in the event of a challenge.

The above is for informational purposes and it is not intended to replace competent legal counsel. For additional information, the following reference is recommended: EEO Policy.

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