Fit-for-Work Testing 101: An Employer’s Introduction to Fit-for-Work Testing

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5 September 2023

Fit-for-Work Testing 101: An Employer’s Introduction to Fit-for-Work Testing

Fit-to-Work Testing is a workplace testing program used to determine whether a worker can safely complete the tasks and duties required by a particular job. Depending on the job requirements, this fitness test can measure and evaluate the worker’s physical capabilities, psychological capabilities, or a combination of these capabilities. The results of fit-to-work testing can determine if the worker can fulfill a particular job position and is different from a more general pre-employment medical exam. (Learn more in "Uses of Pre-Employment Medical Exams and Differences From Fit-For-Work Testing".) For this reason it is important to make sure that these tests are administered fairly and within both labor contract agreements and legal requirements.

Fit-to-Work Testing Supports Workplace Safety

Employers value fit-to-work testing for several reasons. It provides assurances that the workers who are hired are actually able to meet the demands of the job. Also, the results of this fitness testing can document if the worker has pre-existing health conditions which could limit their abilities, or which may require accommodation, such as from a prior disabling injury. (Learn more in "When To Use A Functional Capacity Evaluation".)

For workers, fit-to-work testing provides the peace of mind that comes from knowing they are ready and able to meet the challenges of the job. This is especially helpful when the worker is returning from an injury, long term illness, or disability. (Learn more in "The Importance of Determining an Employee's Pre-Existing Injuries".) Additionally, workers may benefit from having a previously unknown pre-existing health condition documented so that they receive any required accommodations. However, fit-to-work testing will not catch conditions that are unrelated to the demands on the specific job for which the candidate is being tested.

Ultimately, fit-to-work testing supports workplace safety for everyone by assuring that none of the workers will inadvertently create a safety hazard for themselves or others due to their health. Establishing and maintaining a well-defined fit-to-work testing process is a best practice every physically or psychologically demanding workplace should adopt.

When to Administer a Fit-to-Work Test

People are most familiar with fit-to-work tests being administered as a worker returns from an injury, long illness, or disability. However, this is not the only time when this testing should be done. Sometimes a work fitness test is required as part of the hiring process or when being assigned to a new job position which has different physical or psychological requirements.

By including a fit-to-work test as part of the job hiring or reassignment process, you are gathering standardized data to be used in the hiring decision. This data will support evidence-based hiring decisions. However, fit-to-work testing must not be used screen out any EEO protected groups, for example those with disabilities or over the age of 40.

A fit-to-work test can also be administered when a worker’s actions on-the-job lead the employer to question whether the worker can carry out the job safely. The employer’s concern must be based on facts (an action taken by the worker and observed by supervisor) and not assumptions or stereotypes about a group, such as believing all diabetics (those with the condition diabetes) faint when their blood sugar is out of control.

Essentially, a fit-to-work test should be administered when you need to determine whether a worker has the physical and psychological ability to safely complete the tasks and duties of a specific job.

Administering Fit-to-Work Tests

Work fitness tests need to be defined and administered in a standardized manner to insure fairness and effectiveness. This is particularly important because the results of the worker fitness evaluation will help determine the worker’s job assignment, disability status, or whether the worker continues to be employed. Because the results of a fit-to-work test can have such serious outcomes you should work with the human resources department from the start of the process. (Learn more in "How to Set Up a Fit-for-Work Testing Program".)

The specifics of a fit-to-work test are tailored to the demands of the specific job and purpose that the worker is being evaluated for. The test needs to be validated, so the physical aspects of the testing are based on the job’s Physical Demands Analysis (PDA) and any applicable hazard identification study results. For this reason fit-to-work tests should be developed by an occupational health professional who understands both the physical and psychological requirements of the job and how to effectively test for them. (Learn more in "Supporting Employee Mental Health in the Workplace".)

Fit-to-work testing is often administered by an independent evaluator. This practice insures fairness and standardization in administering the test. The tester doesn’t know the worker, so their evaluation won’t be influenced by past actions or events. Using an independent evaluator can also insure that job candidates are evaluated in a consistent manner.

Finally, it is critically important to coordinate all fit-to-work testing with your in-house human resources and occupational health administrator. The results of workplace fitness testing can have an effect on the worker’s job or job status. Your human resources or occupational health administrator will make sure that the testing process and results are documented properly and completely. They should also make sure the testing is administered within the legal and contractual requirements of your community and company.

Fit-to-Work Testing Benefits Everyone in the Workplace

Ultimately, everyone benefits from a well managed fit-to-work testing program. By establishing and implementing a well-defined, and standards-based, workplace fitness testing program, you can be confident that every worker can complete the tasks and duties of the job safely. This, in turn, helps to ensure that everyone in the workplace will have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that solid steps are being taken to reduce accidents and hazards, particularly in safety sensitive positions.