Fit-for-work testing can be used to identify whether a worker is likely to be able to carry out a job role whilst also meeting health and safety requirements. Also called "fit for duty" or "fit to work" testing, the assessment can be used for physical, mental and emotional evaluations to determine a worker's suitability for a job role.

The assessment could include any number of specific tests that are related to the requirements of a job role.

Fit for work testing can be carried out during the pre-employment process, or in response to one or more situations during employment. An employer can decide when it is appropriate to carry out fit-for-work testing.

Fit-for-work testing is likely to be carried out by a combination of different professionals, depending on the tests that are chosen. Examples could include health professionals such as psychologists and physiotherapists. At the end of the assessments, the healthcare professional will generally report one of three findings back to the employer: fit, unfit, or fit subject to work modifications.

The most likely situations to implement a fit-for-work testing program are outlined below.

Fit-for-work testing during the pre-employment/hiring process

Fit-for-work testing can be carried out before a worker is hired for a job role. It is different from a pre-employment medical exam, which is more generalized and may be completed by a General Practitioner (GP). A medical exam could cover the worker's medical history, a physical exam and drug testing. (Find out more in "Uses of pre-employment medical exams and differences from fit-for-work testing").

During the pre-employment testing phase, it is imperative that the fit-for-work testing process does not discriminate against anyone with a disability. Employers should follow guidelines set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to ensure they are not screening out a person with a disability through their testing process, when that person may have been just as likely to be able to carry out a job role safely and effectively as someone without that disability.

Fit-for-work testing during the pre-employment process can identify the ways in which pre-existing medical conditions or injuries may affect an employee's ability to carry out their job role safely and effectively. This information enables employers to create accommodation in job tasks or assignments for that employee. (Find out more about ensuring your employees are the right fit during pre-employment or return-to-work in "Fit for work testing: How to fit the employee to the job").

Fit-for-work testing during the course of employment

It may be appropriate to carry out fit-for-work testing during employment, in the following situations.

1. Employee actions that could compromise health and safety

When an employer determines that the actions of an employee may negatively impact health and safety within the workplace, they may decide to carry out fit-for-work testing. This must be on reasonable grounds that question the physical or psychological ability of the worker to carry out their job role within health and safety requirements.

In this case, a specific employee action observed by the employer or supervisor forms the basis for reasonable grounds to initiate the testing process. Essentially, the grounds for taking action must be based on facts (i.e. something that has actually happened). For example, a supervisor might observe an employee using a piece of equipment in a way that poses a danger to themselves or others, despite having been through extensive training on how to use that piece of equipment. This could prompt the requirement for a relevant psychological fit-for-work test.

Similarly, an employee who faints whilst operating a piece of machinery may be required to undergo a medical evaluation as part of fit-for-work testing. The end goal is a safe working environment for all employees.

2. Upon return-to-work following an injury or health-related leave of absence

If an employee has been on a leave of absence for health or injury-related reasons, this may also be reasonable grounds upon which to conduct fit-for-work testing. Where there is a question around whether that employee is physically, mentally or emotionally ready to return to duty, a relevant fit-for-work assessment can be carried out.

The results of a fit-for-work assessment for a returning employee may highlight the need for accommodation of the worker. This is essentially an adjustment in job tasks to support the worker with physical, mental or emotional limitations. The introduction of a specific technology and adjustments to schedules or environment are examples of accommodation.

3. When there has been a significant change in working conditions

If a company significantly changes the type of equipment or equipment set-up they are using, the job role or associated tasks, or the requirements of workers, these may be grounds to conduct fit-for-work testing.

A worker who changes position within the company may be subjected to different working conditions than usual, and therefore fit-for-work testing would be beneficial to check they can safely and effectively carry out their new role.

Seek advice from a local attorney to ensure that your fit-for-work testing protocol does not infringe human rights and complies with applicable laws.

To find out more about the breakdown steps for implementation, see "How to set up a fit-for-work testing program."