BMI-Mandated Sleep Apnea Testing Legal, Court Says

A Federal Court has ruled that trucking companies can require employees to take a sleep apnea test based on their BMI. They decided that it was legal and nondiscriminatory to require sleep tests for drivers whose BMI was over 35.

Not a Violation of the ADA

The driver had refused to get a sleep test in 2013. The carrier, Crete, had since 2010 required sleep tests for all drivers with a BMI over 35. When the driver refused to have the sleep test, the carrier suspended him and never reinstated him. He sued the company for wrongful termination.

However, the three-judge panel for the Eighth Circuit Court ruled that Crete was well within its rights to terminate the driver. They said that the policy was business-related and identified a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason to doubt the employee’s capacity to perform his or her duties.” They pointed to the increased crash risk for truck drivers with sleep apnea.

A court has mandated a sleep apnea test for all employees with a BMI over 35

Because sleep apnea can impair a driver’s ability, leading to an increased crash risk, the judges ruled the policy was legitimate. They also noted that the BMI requirement is medically justified and therefore non-discriminatory. Even though the driver produced a note from his doctor saying the test was not necessary, the court was not swayed. They noted that, “A sleep study is the only way to confirm or rule out an obstructive sleep apnea diagnosis.” They pointed to numerous legal precedents for medical-related job requirements in making their decision.

Because the Eighth Circuit Court is superseded only by the US Supreme Court, it is likely that this ruling will stand as a guideline for future company policies until the introduction of formal rules by the FMCSA. The FMCSA’s rulemaking process is in motion after a stall by lobbyists, but it may take a year or more before formal rules are finished.

Ironically, the Medical review board of the FMCSA has recommended that the policy should be that drivers who meet certain criteria–such as elevated BMI–automatically be required to take a sleep test.

Why Employers Should Encourage Sleep Apnea Treatment

Although the trucking industry is an obvious case of benefit for sleep apnea treatment, all employers should encourage employees to be tested and treated for sleep apnea. Employers benefit if employees get sleep apnea treatment because it can:

Overall, sleep apnea treatment can lead to significant savings for every employer. Not every employer can make as clear a link to work performance as trucking carriers, so a requirement may be difficult to achieve. But perhaps an office-based awareness campaign may be a good idea if an employer notices that many employees seem to suffer from daytime sleepiness, or if accident rates are high.

If you are looking for more information about sleep apnea or sleep apnea treatment in Omaha, please call (402) 493-4175 today for an appointment with sleep dentist Dr. Roger Roubal at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.