Trucking Firms and the ADA

Kevin Anderson Employment and Labor, Regulations, Transportation

Employment as a truck driver is one of those jobs that requires employers to walk a fine line between qualified employees and those unqualified because of physical impairments. The reason this is so is fairly apparent, unless a reasonably healthy truck driver poses a danger to his company, shippers, and the public who uses interstate highways.

Understanding this is one thing, and walking that fine line is another. A recent appeals court case out of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals illustrates this. In that case, Parker v. Crete Carrier Corp., the court was tasked with resolving several issues related to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The major issue facing the trucking company in that case was whether they violated the ADA by mandating one of their drivers take a sleep apnea test or face termination.

Basics of the ADA

The ADA was a hallmark piece of legislation from the early 1990s. It applies to many aspects of public life, including how employers deal with their employees. When related to employment, the act prohibits employers from discriminating against current or potential employees based on any disability the person might have. But this is a general rule, not absolute.

Obviously there are certain jobs with basic physical qualifications to do them. One of these is the profession of truck drivers. As a result, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issues guidance and regulations on how a company navigates between basic driver qualifications and staying compliant with the ADA. The FMCSA issues regulations on many different types of diseases and ailments that relate specifically to truck driving, and one of those is sleep apnea.

The FMCSA mandates that truck drivers get medical examinations every two years. 49 C.F.R. §§ 391.43(a). Unless that examination shows the driver to be physically able to do the job, they will not be certified and cannot drive a truck for a living. This examination looks at basic physical qualifications such as weight, height, and health history. Impairments that interfere with driving a truck cause the driver to fail and leave the road.

Sleep apnea, however, presents more complications than other physical ailments. The FMCSA clearly identifies sleep apnea as a problem for drivers, because drivers who suffer from it are more likely to be sleepy while driving and pose a risk. But not all drivers are screened for it, and there is not clear guidance as to what the cutoff is. Indeed, the driving company in this case made its own standards for when a driver must be screened for sleep apnea, and that is what the driver challenged in court.

Court Rules Against Driver

As can be easily understood, the court ruled that the company was justified in making its driver go through sleep apnea tests. The reason was because the company had reasonable procedures and processes such as requiring all drivers with a BMI over 35 to get tested for sleep apnea. It is another example of how companies benefit from skilled guidance on how federal rules and regulation impact a trucking company’s bottom line.

At Anderson and Yamada, P.C. we have decades of experience handling issues such as these. As your company faces legal challenges with the transportation industry, consider contacting us so we can guide your team.