What is a Fitness for Duty (FFD) Evaluation?

When an employer is concerned that an employee is not safely able to perform their day-to-day job functions, one option is conducting an evaluation of the employee’s Fitness for Duty or FFD. Although most fitness for duty evaluations cover physical abilities, say after a personal injury or work-related injury, psychological FFD evaluations can also be requested by an employer to determine if an employee has any psychological impairment that may impede their ability to perform their job safely and effectively.

To understand what a fitness for duty evaluation is, we’re going to look at:

  • The various situations that trigger a fitness for duty assessment
  • What processes are involved in obtaining an employee’s informed written consent
  • What’s included in the evaluation report
  • The recommendations that evaluators may provide
  • The steps that employers need to take to implement FFD evaluations in their workplace

What Situations May Trigger a Fitness for Duty Evaluation?

There are different times when an employer may request a fitness for duty evaluation. An FFD evaluation may either be a medical or a psychological examination in which a licensed physician seeks specific information about an employee’s physical or mental health or condition as is related to, or within the scope of the work or job duties. Some of the instances that may call for an FFD evaluation are:

  • When an employee believes an employee is not capable of performing his or her job duties safely and successfully, because of a psychological or a medical condition
  • When an employer believes an employee’s current medical or psychological condition may be a risk to themselves, fellow co-workers, customers or even the general public
  • When an employee resumes work from Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave due to their own illness

An employer may request a fitness for duty evaluation if they observe serious job performance issues, unsafe behavior or conduct by an employee in the workplace. Additionally, if an employee self-discloses any medical or psychological condition that may impact their work, an employer may recommend an FFD evaluation.

It’s important to understand that FFD evaluations are based on objective evidence which is needed to justify why it should be done. While there are no specific federal or state laws dictating the deadlines or windows of time in which an FFD evaluation can be done, employers will look at having it done as soon as possible.

What’s Included in the Evaluation Report?

Obtain employee's informed written consent

After the evaluation process is complete, the evaluation experts will provide the employer with an objective and accurate written report that describes the initial rationale of the evaluation, the evaluation techniques used and an honest opinion of whether the employee in question is presently fit, health or mentally stable to resume unrestricted duty. The content of the evaluation report is usually guided by the terms of the employee’s authorization and informed consent, set evaluation procedures and policies by the employer and the relevant employment laws.

The report may find the employee to be either:

  • Fit for duty, with no restrictions
  • Fit for duty, but with certain restrictions or modifications
  • Unfit for duty

The evaluation report should contain specific information, including:

  • The full description of the employee’s job-relevant limitations or functional impairments
  • An estimated likelihood of, and the approximate time frame, for a return to unrestricted duty
  • Recommended work accommodations or restrictions or other interventions

Understanding what is included in an evaluation report is a key part of understanding a fitness for duty evaluation. Most information will be dictated by what is expected by the employer as well as what the employee is willing to provide based on their informed consent.

The Implementation Checklist for Employers

Every employer is required to establish a policy governing medical and psychological FFD evaluations. Once you have the policy in place, you must ask yourself if it addresses both physical and non-psychological fitness for duty evaluations, if it requires FFD evaluations as a condition for return to work and what it covers in terms of scope, associated rights, procedures and employee obligations. A clear policy ensures that all evaluations done are performed as per employment laws and with the strict adherence to standard evaluation policies. As always, please check with your council for the latest rules and regulations.

Where Can a Fitness for Duty Evaluation Be Done?

Fitness for duty evaluations can be done anywhere an employee is willing to travel. It’s important to understand that by the time an employer is requesting an FFD evaluation, an employee’s medical or psychological condition is already in question. To ensure convenience, employers must work with the right experts in the appropriate specialty when conducting evaluations. It’s best to work with experts who are as close to the employee’s employment or residence as possible.

Arrowhead Evaluation Services is a leading provider of independent medical evaluation services in civil litigation, workers compensation and disability retirement cases. We provide accurate and prompt medical evidence that helps answer complex medical questions in fitness for duty evaluations. Our board-certified medical evaluators offer services with expert care and professionalism. Whether you want to understand what a fitness for duty evaluation is or schedule a fitness for duty evaluation, don’t hesitate to contact us today.

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