In a case of first impression in New Jersey, the Appellate Division cautioned that employers may only require an employee to undergo a mental health fitness-for-duty examination in limited circumstances. Relying heavily on the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance, the Court held that such examinations are only permitted when an employer “has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that: (1) an employee’s ability to perform essential job functions will be impaired by a medical condition; or (2) an employee will pose a direct threat due to a medical condition.” In the Matter of Paul Williams, Township of Lakewood, 443 N.J. Super. 532, 120 A.3d 593 (Jan. 25, 2016) (emphasis added).
Paul Williams (“Williams”) was a truck driver with the Lakewood Township Public Works Department for nine years when, in March 2013, the Township received an anonymous letter allegedly from a co-worker claiming that several employees who worked with Williams were concerned for their safety. The letter also baldly alleged that “everyone knows [Williams] has some sort of mental issues” that put all of his co-workers “at risk.” While citing general statistics of workplace violence and describing Williams as a “time bomb waiting to explode,” the only description of any alleged workplace misconduct contained in the letter was an undetailed assertion of “tirades and outbursts” – some of which were purportedly directed towards the union shop stewards.