Fitness for duty evaluations are a key legal tool for employers to determine whether an employee or prospective employee can perform the essential functions of a given job. Fitness for duty evaluations can help employers make informed, legally-defensible employment decisions.
A psychological fitness for duty evaluation (FFDE) entails examining an employee following both objective evidence that the employee may be unable to safely or effectively perform a defined job and a reasonable basis for believing that the cause may be attributable to a psychological condition or impairment.
A psychological fitness for duty evaluation can determine if a particular individual possesses the necessary functional capacity for a task. Fitness for duty evaluations can determine if an individual presents a threat of violence, has cognitive impairment, or suffers from substance abuse.
Fitness for duty evaluations can be used for both prospective and existing employees. They are often used by police departments both to determine if a prospective officer can safely and effectively perform the job sought, or whether a current officer remains able to perform their assigned role. However, fitness for duty evaluations are also appropriate for any roles involving high stress, high stakes, or access to dangerous items such as firearms or controlled substances.
An FFDE referral is indicated whenever an objective and reasonable basis exists for believing that the employee may not be able to perform their assigned duties due safely or effectively due to a psychological condition or impairment. This means that speculation is insufficient: there must be a direct observation, a credible third-party report, or some other reliable evidence to form the objective basis for an FFDE referral.
When conducting an FFDE, the examiner usually requires background and other information regarding the individual’s past and present function, conduct, and performance. This information may include, but is not limited to:
- job description
- performance evaluations
- past remediation efforts
- internal affairs investigations
- disciplinary actions
- reports related to officer-involved shootings
- formal complaints
- civil claims
- use-of-force incidents
- incident reports of any triggering events
- medical records
- prior psychological evaluations
In some cases, the examinee may be asked to provide relevant mental health or medical treatment records. The only limiting principle for background information is that it must be clearly related to job performance issues or the suspected mental condition affecting job performance.
Fitness for duty evaluations are an important part of ensuring that your staff are able to safely and competently carry out your organization’s mission. They are also critical for limiting your liability as an employer.