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A pre-employment physical exam is a medical evaluation conducted by an employer before hiring an individual. This exam aims to determine if a prospective employee is physically and medically able to safely perform all of the essential job duties and functions associated with a particular position.

What Does a Typical Exam Entail?

A standard pre-employment physical usually consists of the following components:

1.     Medical History

The examiner will take a full medical history from the applicant, asking about any past or current physical or mental health conditions, injuries, surgeries, hospitalizations, etc.

2.     Physical Exam

The examiner will perform a basic physical exam and check for vital signs, range of motion, strength, hearing, vision, etc.

3.     Drug/Alcohol Screening

Many pre-employment exams require a urine, saliva, hair, or blood sample to test for the use of illicit drugs or alcohol abuse.

4.     Immunizations and Vaccinations

Proof of immunization may be required for certain contagious diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, tetanus, etc., depending on job risks.

5.     Functional Capacity Evaluation

For physically demanding jobs, additional tests like lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling may be conducted to ensure the ability to handle essential physical tasks.

6.     Medical Clearance

The final step is getting medical clearance from the examining physician stating fitness to perform job duties as described.

When Should an Exam Be Conducted?

There are a few different stages in the hiring process when a pre-employment physical may be required:

1.     Conditional Job Offer

Many employers conduct exams after extending a conditional offer of employment before the applicant starts work. This identifies any issues before onboarding.

2.     Post-Offer, Pre-Placement

For safety-sensitive roles, the exam is often scheduled right after a job offer is accepted but before final placement.

3.     During Probation Period

Some organizations wait until the new hire completes an initial probationary period to determine fitness based on job performance.

4.     Randomly Throughout Employment

Certain jobs, like pilots and commercial drivers, require periodic medical recertification exams to ensure ongoing fitness for duty.

Why are Exams Conducted?

There are important legal and practical reasons why employers choose to conduct pre-employment medical exams:

1.     Compliance

It helps ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by screening out unqualified applicants only.

2.     Safety

For positions with safety risks like operating equipment, frequent lifting, and driving, certain medical conditions could endanger the employee or others.

3.     Productivity

Hiring physically capable individuals means less absenteeism, injuries, and workplace accidents that impact productivity.

4.     Liability

Should an unfit applicant be hired and get injured or hurt others on the job due to a pre-existing condition, the employer could face legal liability.

5.     Insurance Rates

Hiring health-fit workers means lower workers’ compensation insurance premiums for the company over the long run.

6.     Performance

A pre-employment exam can identify if candidates have any existing health issues that could impair their ability to perform essential job functions.


Both employers and employees want the same thing – a safe and productive work environment. Pre-employment physicals aim to provide that by screening for any impediments to essential job duties.

However, they also reveal deeply personal health information very early in the hiring process. Perhaps in the future, as technologies evolve, there will be less invasive alternatives that can achieve safety goals without compromising privacy or potentially discriminating against qualified candidates.

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