my new job sprang a surprise medical exam on me

A reader writes:

I’m going to be working in in an office department of a company that manufactures items. They have the whole manufacturing plant and the office all in one big building, and when I was hired they explained to me that there are a lot of rules that come over from the manufacturing side (things like strict start/end times and leave policies). They explained that people in my department aren’t technically bound by that — we can just post a message saying we’re coming in late or taking a day off, rather than formally requesting leave — but the official policy is quite strict because of the manufacturing plant. You can’t just take off early without coverage if you’re in charge of operating a machine, which I get.

I also had to consent to a drug screen / background check. That was fine, and while I oppose drug screens at hire, I get it, I’m not going to complain, especially considering the aforementioned strict policies and heavy machinery. But when I showed up to take the drug screen, the medical clinic blindsided me with a required physical examination as well — which was not mentioned at any point during the hiring process. They sent the results of that physical exam (with details including my weight/BMI, my blood pressure, my heart rate) directly to HR via email.

I signed a consent to share medical data with the company which I believed was solely for the drug screen, until they just segued into the physical and I was so shocked I didn’t really resist. They asked me questions about whether or not I was on birth control and if I had a history of varicose veins (???) and one of the questions on the screening form literally asked if any family member had been diagnosed with “insanity.”

I have a lot of issues in medical settings to begin with, stemming from some extremely bad past experiences, and this surprise physical has Messed Me Up for the last week and made me very apprehensive about a job I was previously very excited for.

During the physical, the doctor told me I could refuse and call the company but I struggle with a tendency towards compliance in distressing situations and was worried about having to come back (not to mention I could not have had a civil conversation with HR at that point) so I just let them do it. I had been in this clinic for two hours already and was hungry and thirsty and it seemed easiest to just give in.

This is bonkers, right? This isn’t normal? For an office job? And especially just to spring on someone? Not to mention the worries about whether or not this will affect the kinds of insurance coverage I get from them. I get requiring a physical before you take a job operating heavy machinery but this job as far from that as you can get. I start on Monday and I’m so torn whether to bring it up or just say nothing. I feel like there might be something valuable in me saying “I was shocked that they sprung a surprise physical exam on me” but at the same time I have zero capital, desperately need this job, and if they responded in any way that wasn’t 100% supportive there’s, like, a 70% chance I’d start crying, so.

Some employers do require a pre-employment physical. I’d argue that for most jobs, this is a huge overstep and a relic from another era, but it’s legal — within certain constraints.

First, an employer can’t require you to take a medical exam before they’ve offered you a job (so they can’t require it when you’re still just an applicant). Once they make you an offer, they can condition that offer on you passing a medical exam. However, if they do that, they have to require it for all employees in your job category. They also can’t reject you because of information about a disability revealed by the exam, unless the reasons for the rejection are “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

But surprisingly, the exam itself does not have to be job-related and consistent with business necessity. They can ask about varicose veins, birth control, STDs … anything they want. They just can’t screen you out over it unless they can show there’s a genuine job-related need for that. If you are thinking this is incredibly messed up and a massive overstep, I would agree.

But guess what they can’t do, yet did with you anyway? That question about a family history of “insanity” (WTF?) probably violated the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), which prohibits employers from obtaining “genetic information” (there are some exceptions, but this isn’t one of them). So that’s not okay.

If there’s anything mildly reassuring in this cesspool of privacy violations, it’s that the law requires that your medical history taken as part of this exam be treated as confidential and kept separate from other employment-related records — and generally only the examiner’s conclusions about whether or not you can work with or without accommodations or restrictions can be disclosed to the employer.

Also, once you’ve started work, the rules change. At that point, your employer can’t require you to undergo a medical exam unless it’s specifically related to your job and consistent with business necessity — “fitness for duty” exams, basically.

So, to your questions. Yes, it’s bonkers. I don’t think it’s particularly normal, but it is still a thing that some companies do. It’s messed up that they sprung it on you. (Any chance it was in something you signed and you didn’t fully process it because you had no reason to think this would be a thing? Even then, though, they should have explicitly called it out to you when explaining their pre-hire procedures.) It should not affect the kind of insurance coverage you’re offered.

If you want to bring it up, it would be 100% fine to say, “I hadn’t expected the physical exam and was surprised by the requirement. What’s behind that?” And once you’ve been there a while and have more capital to spend, it would also be fine to push them to reconsider the practice, or at least to more clearly warn new hires about it.

{ 295 comments… read them below }

  1. TS*

    Does this employer offer a life insurance benefit? That could be one reason for doing physical exams.

    1. Antilles*

      Even if so, that wouldn’t really be up to the company to need that information; it’d be the third-party life insurance company that should be arranging to get all that information.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I can’t speak to getting it from a third-party, as I’ve never done that. But I have had numerous employers, including a manufacturer, that offered life insurance and none of them required a physical exam for that. Some did push the yearly wellness crap for healthcare discounts on you, but you could turn that down. You weren’t eligible if you refused, although you also had the option of having your own doctor do it and fill out a form rather than the people who came to the workplace.

      As far as I’m aware, it wasn’t for life insurance, which was just something extra they offered, and it was always optional.

      1. ArtK*

        Although this situation isn’t related to life insurance, I have been required to have a physical exam for company-managed insurance. In general, there was a base level that didn’t require a physical exam, but if you wanted any higher level of coverage, you had to have the exam.

        1. Triumphant Fox*

          Yes. This is generally how it works. Below a certain threshold, exams are usually not required. If your coverage is tied to salary, you may be over that threshold or if you ask for more coverage as part of the policy, you may need an exam.

    3. Quill*

      That would still be a pretty massive overreach (because most life insurances you can sign up for don’t require it and it also opens the door to employment descrimination based on that info.)

      1. Raquel*

        I’m a case manager in life insurance and fully underwritten carriers almost always require it. We aren’t talking about the five-minute MetLife applications here–this is the $250k face amount Prudential policy that has fewer exclusions, riders, etc. than what you can get with a few clicks of a mouse.

    4. Sales Geek*

      This could also be used by the company for “Dead Peasant” insurance. This is where the company takes out a life insurance policy on you and specifies the company (or a related entity) as the beneficiary.

      1. Reality Check*

        If that’s what they’re doing, the company has to make OP aware that they’ve taken a policy out on him/her. That’s a federal law.

    5. Natalie*

      Group life insurance through an employer can’t require a medical questionnaire or exam if you enroll upon first eligibility. I believe that stems from either ERISA or IRS requirements that tax free benefits have to be available to all employees or all employees of a specific category.

      1. JessaB*

        My understanding is general insurance cannot but if you want additional (IE standard is for instance 2x your salary, but you want 5x) they can actually ask for an exam or other qualifications.

      2. Aitch Arr*

        If the requested amount is over the guaranteed issue amount, then yes, they can require a questionnaire or exam.

        1. jojo*

          plus the benefit package says in writing that you would need a physical over such a dollar amount. and then the employer would not send you for the physical. the insurance company would mail you the forms to be filled and if they required a certain doctor or if your regular doctor could fill it out.

    6. jojo*

      physical exam is usually only requested if you are going for more than 3 year salary as your life insurance. I have 3 year salary as my life insurance because if I go for more I have to get a full invasive physical and my rate would be more because genetic stuff and I smoke.

  2. Anne of Green Gables*

    Could you frame the question in terms of not having planned for the time involved? A drug test is usually pretty quick in and out, a physical takes much longer so just the time set aside for the appointment would mess people up. That you were there for 2 hours when you thought it was just a pee in a cup situation is crazypants. (To be clear, this is bonkers and I am not in any way saying it’s not, I’m just thinking of a way to inquire/point out issues that is fairly risk-free for a new person.)

    1. Anon-a-souras*

      It is possible that the person from your company sent the wrong info to the clinic, or that the clinic employee saw the employer and assigned the wrong screen. This is based on personal experience – I’ve seen both happen.

      I once had someone who was going to work for me call me to say they were at their drug-screen & physical, but had been called into a psychologist! Office! and were being asked mental fitness questions. my company ended the relationship with that provider not long after.

      If you want to address it now you can inquire and say you were surprised by the requirement and are asking in case it shouldn’t have occurred. Maybe even throw in a ‘occured to me later that it might be expensive to do that screening’

      1. ItDoesHappen*


        It happened to me once. I was sent to pee in a cup, but the paperwork was messed up and I ended up having a physical done. Another new hire who WAS supposed to get the full work up ended up just getting the drug screen. We have employees who do field work so it wasn’t odd that someone would need a physical, but I was just an office worker!

  3. AnonAcademic*

    At most hospitals where I’ve worked in research, a brief physical and immunizations are a pretty standard part of onboarding. It definitely feels a bit invasive, but when there is a safety context for the majority of workers at a business
    it’s certainly not unreasonable. For example, preserving herd immunity in a hospital, or ensuring someone can lift X amount safely for a physically demanding job. I actually find that the more traditionally “blue collar” a job is the more likely they are to drug test too. But in other entry level roles like in restaurants or retail, it would be unusual and invasive.

    TL;DR this is super field dependent.

    1. Antilles*

      But to this extent? I’m in a field related to construction and I’ve been through plenty of drug/alcohol screens, eye exams, and general physicals…but the idea of asking someone about family history is far beyond anything I’ve ever seen. And birth control falls firmly into the “heck no, you don’t need to know about what I am or am not doing with my reproductive organs”.

      1. Amy Sly*

        If the doc is supposed to note that you’re safe to work around dangerous chemicals, he does need to know.

        I’m absolutely certain that this doc has to do a physical on everyone who gets a job, which means he isn’t thinking of tailoring the questions to the few things an office worker needs to be approved for. He’s asking these questions to everyone who comes through needing a physical for Manufacturing Corp., and whether there’s a risk of accidental abortion is an important thing to know for the shop floor workers.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Erm, I’m not sure that’s the case. Any chemical that’s dangerous for pregnant women to be around is dangerous for anyone to be around.

          1. Dragoning*

            Well, not necessarily. Some things are far more dangerous for fetuses than for full grown humans, and some of it can seep through skin or be inhaled.

            1. Amy Sly*

              Not to mention that there are almost certainly procedures in place to deal with injuries to the employee through workman’s comp, but a claim for wrongful death of a fetus could get into some very confused precedents that the company doesn’t want to even risk dealing with.

              1. Antilles*

                But…how does asking if someone is on birth control answer that question?
                Depending on the method used, it’s entirely possible to become pregnant while on birth control. And on the flip side, the fact that a woman isn’t on birth control doesn’t necessarily mean she’s likely to become pregnant.

                1. Quill*

                  It definitely doesn’t actually answer that question: it’s not only overreach but a bad proxy for what they want to achieve.

                2. Ms. Green Jeans*

                  I don’t understand how the question prevents anything at all, especially considering that prescription isn’t even 100% effective. If they were being thorough to that end, they should also ask if the patient is compliant and does not miss any doses. Ridiculous. I would have refused to answer the question at all.

                3. PeanutButter*

                  Given the questions about varicose veins, I’d guess they’re assessing risk for thrombosis or other vascular maladies that can happen when people have to stand or sit in one place in one position for a long time, like on a manufacturing floor. Hormonal birth control increases the risk of blood clots. It sounds like either the place that did the physical just saw the company name and assumed she was getting the full meal deal floor worker physical, or the company does the same thing for everyone and doesn’t think to warn their office staff about it or give them the opportunity to opt out.

            2. Quill*

              I’m a woman and I’ve worked in labs that have been teratogen adjacent and, at least in the U.S., the standard wasn’t to ask about being on birth control, it was to sit you down for a training vid that explained teratogens and “please see your manager / hr if you have reason to believe these job duties put you at risk,” (aka disclose pregnancy / potential pregnancy or other medical conditions to get reassigned from teratogens.)

              It certainly wasn’t a screen for everyone! This whole setup seems like it’s knocking on the door to potential employment discrimination (what with the psychiatric questions and the required disclosure of such a large amount of medical information to your company) and that the door is made of cardboard.

              1. Chuck Finley*

                Same when I worked for an x-ray machine manufacturer (medical x-ray machines). We were given radiation training and dosimeters, not asked about birth control (I’m female of child-bearing age, for the record). Employees that worked directly with chemicals or worked in a noisy environment or had a questionable dosimeter reading* got specific tests for those things, but no medical exams before employment, and not for everyone.

                * One coworker left a dosimeter in their bag when going through an airport x-ray machine and needed to supply an explanation of what happened. Airport x-rays are way more powerful than medical ones.

                1. Quill*

                  Glad to know that the TSA can not only see my underwire and judge the weird arrangement of my foot bones, but seriously add to my lifetime dose of X-rays.

                2. Ethyl*

                  No, the dosimeter was in baggage being x rayed. The body scanners are very safe, and use much less radiation than a regular doctor’s x ray.

                3. Chuck Finley*

                  Sorry, bad phrasing. Ethyl is correct. The dosimeter was in the bag that went through the baggage x-ray. Baggage x-rays are higher power to get more detail in a shorter exposure time.

              2. A Silver Spork*

                Yep. I’ve worked in labs with a lot of teratogens – including one that my coworker described as “colorless, odorless, and makes your baby fall out immediately” – and SOP was to remind everyone every few months “if you are pregnant or are thinking of getting pregnant, tell your manager immediately” in a training. Even the cis dudes and the clearly post-menopausal folks and the receptionist who never entered the lab. I thought this was either federal law or FDA/OSHA regulation, since it happened in five workplaces in three states, but I’m not actually sure about that.

          2. Snow*

            Well, no. There are chemicals that specifically affect developing fetuses, but don’t affect adults. However, in general it is up to the pregnant person to report that they are pregnant, at their own discretion, if they work with such chemicals, and get reasonable accommodations. I have never heard of an employer demanding proof of birth control to work with teratogenic chemicals.

            1. Rockin Takin*

              I am pregnant and let health services know because I cannot wear a respirator/work with our more extreme chemicals.
              We also have people who cannot work with any of our carcinogens because of a previous history of cancer.

            2. Natalie*

              And of course I’ve forgotten the name of the damn case again, but there’s one detailed in Backlash where women were kept out of a specific (lucrative) job category under the guise of protecting any theoretical pregnancies. I believe a few women had been sterilized and were still denied the positions. Of course that was 40 years ago and ended in some kind of litigation, so hopefully employers have wised up since then.

              1. MsSolo*

                I hadn’t heard of Backlash before, so you’ve just sent me down an interesting Wikipedia hole! The update to the newer edition discussing the shift from the 80s backlash to the 00s “feminism has been won” is especially interesting in the light of where we are now, which is arguably a backlash period again. It would be great to read something similar with a more intersectional take, to reflect the nature of the current backlash,

          3. Elaner*

            Exactly. Depends on the exposure level and method to determine how it impacts an adult or a fetus. PSA: Read your safety data sheets

          4. jojo*

            look up thalidomide babies on you tube. it was a morning sickness drug during pregnancy. zero negative effect on women. it got rid of the morning sickness. babies born with no arms and other such negative effects. it was classified as a teratogen. no negative effects on adults. babies born with defects. so your statement is incorrect. a thing can have no effect on the mother and kill the unborn child.

        2. Elaner*

          Manufacturing Safety Manager here. If the chemical could cause harm to fetuses or reproductive organs that seriously, they are due for a large OSHA citation. In the US it is pretty darned illegal to expose someone to that amount of chemical (OSHA HazCom standards). With of course the caviat that OSHA lags NIOSH and ACGIH safe exposure in a big way due to the giant repeal, but with the SDS a company is fully aware of what could cause harm, at what levels, and that if an employee gets sick, they better have a great legal defense as to why they didn’t use the NIOSH or ACGIH OELs…

        3. valentine*

          He’s asking these questions to everyone who comes through needing a physical for Manufacturing Corp
          I think this is what happened, but that Manufacturing Corp deliberately treats all employees the same until the last second, as with the time off/flexing instruction. They could write their manual to say which employees are exempt, but they would prefer not to.

        4. Tidewater 4-1009*

          If it’s this, they could examine all workers because even though you’re in the office, you’ll pass through or around the manufacturing areas and still be exposed to the chemicals.
          They should let you know about this risk though, in case you decide to get pregnant later.
          It could be the person onboarding you forgot to mention the physical. That would not be ok.

      2. Nita*

        I’m also in construction. Our annual physical does include a bunch of family history questions, but none of this info goes to HR. It’s kind of 50% OSHA requirement, and 50% annual screening for the employee’s benefit. We can choose to go to our regular physician and do a more limited exam, as long as a few required things are included. All the company normally gets is a short form that has “employee is cleared for XYZ duties/has such and such limitations” on it. I think more data would have to be shared with the company if there was a worker’s comp claim, but they’d need the employee’s written permission, and I believe you can choose to share some records but not others. Everyone who may have exposure to hazards has to get the physical, even if they’re only out in the field once every few months for a couple hours.

        So, there may be a requirement for the physical exam, especially if there’s a chance that office staff may need to spend even short amounts of time around whatever hazards are on the manufacturing side. But the requirement is likely much more limited than the info getting sent over to HR. OP, hopefully you can push back against what they’re doing now. At the very least, if you have to do this annually, ask if there’s some basic information the company 100% needs, and then feel free to ask the doctor to only send that info and opt out of sharing the rest.

      3. Rockin Takin*

        I work in manufacturing and we have physicals to get approved to wear respirators. They ask a LOT of questions and that includes all current meds because they need to know to ensure you are safe to wear a respirator. They also draw blood, do a chest x-ray, and test your lung capacity.
        If anything changes, employees have to contact health services and update their record. Health services also does checkups every year or so.

      4. Ace in the Hole*

        OSHA requires medical monitoring for anyone whose work has the potential to expose them to hazardous wastes or certain hazardous chemicals. This doesn’t mean the person is being exposed (that would be illegal in itself). It’s a requirement so in case, in spite of all precautions, there is an exposure, you have a baseline medical history to compare and so that you can catch signs of exposure that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.

        These physicals are very comprehensive because exposures can affect all sorts of things. The ones I take include a questionnaire on family/personal medical history, psychiatric conditions, list of all medications I’m on (birth control would absolutely count, as would any other prescriptions or OTC drugs), blood and urine testing for everything from heavy metals to sugars, an EKG, lung x-rays, vision exams… all sorts of testing. Birth control in particular would be important to document since it can affect hormone levels and cancer risk, both of which can also be affected by certain chemical exposures.

        The point is NOT to force people to make any particular decisions about reproductive health, nor is it to assign job duties based on reproductive status. It’s just to document their health in case of future accidents or illness.

        If I had to guess, I’d assume this company has everyone take the same baseline physical when starting so they don’t have to worry about missing someone who has to have it. Plus that way if someone wants to transfer positions they already have the baseline on file.

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      Immunizations screening doesn’t ask about family history of “insanity”.

      I had a job that required hepatitis vaccines, which they paid for. They didn’t ask me about family history of anything.

      1. MassMatt*

        That “history of insanity” question makes me question the sanity of the whole procedure.

        That the LW was blindsided by this is shocking. Someone applying for or starting a new job is likely to be nervous and in a position that makes it difficult to say no. That’s coercive.

        LW I’m sorry this happened to you, do mention it to your manager, maybe it was a mistake or maybe it’s a nutty thing that they’ve always done there so they don’t realize how nutty it is. If the latter, be on the alert for other nutty things with that employer and don’t drink the Kool Aid.

        If they do this to everyone working office jobs I guarantee it is costing them employees, quite a few people would say “hell no!” And leave. Not to mention the cost of the exams. Even a terrible doctor isn’t cheap.

    3. Dragoning*

      Pharma also requires drug tests, and also disclosing information about history of past drug abuse charges and such. On every level at the company, not just manufacturing.

      1. Amy Sly*

        Yeah. There are several things wrong with how this was handled, but companies that do more than inconvenience electrons have different rules for good reasons. They need to make sure all their employees stay safe, and part of doing that involves getting more information about those employees.

      2. Lora*

        Yuuuup. If there’s a spill/accident at the site, the methotrexate doesn’t care that you are just an accountant in the front office. Much worse if they do any cytotoxics or small molecules synthesis on site. If you are unconscious and the first responders load you into an ambulance and get you to the hospital with 300 of your closest colleagues, they better have a central repository with your basic medical history available for the ER doctor. They should have definitely told you ahead of time though.

    4. Lthing*

      AnonAcademic you’re on the nose here. There are definitely reasons for physicals like this – and I earnestly believe they do it to help people help themselves. If you’ve ever know that one person who was a little tipsy all the time and lost a hand in a factory job, you appreciate that coworkers are screened for some things with heavy machinery. I’m sure it’s the same for RNs, like, don’t die. That being said, I don’t choose to work places that test my bio anymore and it’s not common. Lots of jobs everywhere this would never happen.

  4. OyHiOh*

    It’s bonkers. Some of the questions might be required for a health or life insurance benefit – birth control. Even the “insanity” one, which sounds like a really terribly awful dystopian way of screening for a history of mental illness that might drive up premiums. Of the questions specifically mentioned by OP, the only one that actually makes sense for a business that applies manufacture side rules and regulations to the office is the one about vericose veins. Vericose veins can make standing at a machine uncomfortable to extremely painful and the condition can be made worse by standing at a machine for the better part of an 8 or 12 hour shift.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if physical exam started life on the manufacture side as a fitness for duty exam, and then somehow horribly morphed into a insurance plus fitness exam that hasn’t been updated in twenty or thirty years.

    It’s bonkers, ugly, and I’m sorry, OP.

    1. Snow globe*

      Insanity isn’t a medical diagnosis. It’s a legal term. Which would make me wonder if this clinic is even a legitimate medical organization.

      1. Quill*

        It deeply concerns me in terms of whether this clinic is current, legit, aware of actual clinical norms, OR in HIPPA compliance! Not to mention I’m not sure that “insanity” still has a coherent legal definition – though that one might be very location dependent.

        LW, in addition to Allison, you may want to write to someone who can give you advice on how to ensure that your medical data remains protected. And please look up this clinic on the Better Business Bureau and the American Medical Association – all I can find immediately is their master file of physicians (which could help if you can remember the physician’s full name) but they should be able to answer questions about the legitimacy of this clinic.

      2. beanie gee*

        I also seriously question the legitimacy of the clinic and/or physician. Both because of the questions and because of the very serious HIPPA violation.

      3. emmelemm*

        Yeah, you can’t diagnose someone with “insanity”. You’ve gotta have an ICD-10 code!

          1. Warm Weighty Wrists*

            Does that include profoundly angering someone who is knitting or crocheting, or is that a different code?

          2. PeanutButter*

            I have actually put a knitting needle through my palm, but given I WORKED in the only ER in town I just poured alcohol on it and wrapped it up myself because no way in Hades was I going to go in with THAT injury and face the royal ribbing my coworkers would have given me.

          3. GB*

            Reader survey? Strangest office injuries (not including anything on the shop floor or really traumatic events).

      4. Question Asker*

        Yeah, it was a legitimate medical place, though not an especially good one. One of those urgent care facility chains.

  5. RCB*

    I’d bring it up but be vague to scare them, and say something like “I was surprised by the medical exam, especially since they asked some questions that are illegal to ask, you really should have the company’s attorneys verify this process before it gets us into trouble”. I’d be tempted to not tell them exactly what was illegal when they push back so that they are forced to examine the entire thing, and hopefully in the course of this they will realize that the entire process is dumb and do away with it.

    1. hamsterpants*

      Um, if you try to “scare” your new employer with saying they doing something illegal, and then act coy about what you are specifically talking about, expect some major fallout.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Right. At BEST, they’ll just give you major side-eye and keep on. Passive aggressiveness almost never has the dramatic effect that people hope. If you can’t/won’t tell them what’s illegal, they aren’t going to jump through any hoops at all to find out.

      2. MicroManagered*

        Yeah this is a horrible plan. If you say “this is illegal” you better be prepared to give specifics. If you don’t, it’s likely to be dismissed as calling something you don’t like “illegal.” Being vague on top of that is likely to make you look unhelpful at best, like an idiot at worst.

    2. Alli525*

      I don’t think any of the questions they asked OP were illegal, though – generally speaking it’s not illegal to ask questions, it’s just illegal to ACT on the answers given.

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          Also, they emailed the results to the employer. Email is not HIPAA compliant…especially the recipient’s.

          1. annie o mous*

            It can be, if someone signed a release and they provider is sending it securely. I work for a medical facility and we literally couldn’t do our jobs without email.

  6. Heidi*

    Asking for family history of “insanity” is sketchy. It’s not considered professional for health care providers to use that term unless it’s referring to one of those high-level interval exercise programs. The term just isn’t specific enough to be diagnostically useful. Mental health disorders are also so prevalent that it would be impractical to exclude potential employees based on that. Rather than ask why this exam exists, it might be easier for the OP to ask about who has access to that information and how they might use it.

    1. boo bot*

      Yeah, I think the last time I saw a doctor ask “is there a history of insanity in your family?” it was in a Marx Brothers movie, and he wasn’t a real doctor. Any chance you accidentally stumbled onto a film set circa 1937, OP?

      1. IWishIHadaFancyUserName*

        Really off the rails, since “insanity” isn’t a medical definition, but a legal one. Or at least, that’s how I understand it.

        1. juliebulie*

          I came here to say the same thing. Totally bizarre for a medical professional to use that word as part of an exam.

      2. Snow globe*

        Arsenic and Old Lace -“Insanity doesn’t just run in my family, it gallops.”

        1. KoiFeeder*

          I’m not usually one for screwball comedy, but Arsenic and Old Lace is a thing of beauty.

        2. Pomona Sprout*

          I LOVE that quote, because insanity literally does gallop in my family. Unfortunately, the depiction of mental illness in Arsenic and Old Lace is highly inaccurate. Still, though, I love the quote. As a person who grew up in a family that was severely impacted by mental illness, it just SPEAKS to me, in a weird sort of way. If that makes any sense whatsoever, which I realize it probably doesn’t.

    2. fposte*

      Yes, it does make it sound like this is just something that’s been done for fifty years and nobody’s ever thought to question it. So questioning it is long overdue.

      1. Viette*

        My immediate thought was actually that they’re just using a really, really outdated form for the intake. You would think that medical people would update these things with some regularity, but workplace physicals are not always the first, or fiftieth, in line to update things, and a complete overhaul is even less common. Some places do a great job and some places are just adding new checkboxes to a form from 1981.

          1. Viette*

            Probably not! And I don’t want to sound like a snob, but doing workplace physicals is not the most coveted of doctor jobs for good reasons; they’re not getting paid a million bucks to do this work and it’s not that interesting. There’s a decent chance that whoever is in the office is not going to be super persnickety about keeping all the terminology on the forms up to date.

        1. MassMatt*

          Well, how old would the questionnaire have to be if it’s asking about family history of insanity? Is it written on parchment? Does it refer to president Coolidge? 1981 ain’t in it!

    3. Jean*

      That stuck out to me too. How long has it been since a doctor has actually diagnosed someone with “insanity”? 50 years, maybe longer? Who designed this questionnaire. and how long ago did they retire?

      1. Quill*

        I’m banking on more than 50 years ago, because it’s 2020 and the last media I saw where someone was diagnosed with insanity could NOT have been any newer than the 50’s.

        As a diagnosis I’m pretty sure it went out when actual mental health care came in.

    4. Dragoning*

      I would say no on that form, because, actually my mother was diagnosed with PTSD and depression, my younger brother has OCD, etc.

      No one has “insanity”

    5. Question Asker*

      Exactly. There is a family history of mental health (I mean, who DOESNT have that?) but I was sure as hell not going to disclose that and DEFINITELY not going to tick the box that said “Insanity”

      I took a picture of the form, just so I could remember that it was, in fact, as bad as I thought.

      1. Tidewater 4-1009*

        Good for you! Keep that photo in case you need it in the future.
        There’s a big variation in mental health problems. PTSD is caused by bad experiences, it’s not genetic. Depression can be also. There may be a few mental disorders that are genetically coded, but just as many – if not more – are not.

  7. Amy Sly*

    I understand your discomfort, but a requirement for a medical exam may be more common than you might expect for an office job at an industrial job site.

    I am (until the 25th) a contract administrator at a working gold mine. To work onsite, I actually have to go through basic mining every year and had to pass a physical. This is required for every single person on site: the geologists taking samples to locate ore, the blast team using explosives to break up the ore bodies, the heavy equipment operators moving ore and rock around, the mill workers using cyanide and a whole bevy of toxic chemicals to strip out the metal, the mechanics repairing the light trucks, the white collar support staff, and even the janitors. We have our own armed guards, our own rescue vehicles, our own medical staff. Safety is paramount in a way that regular office workers normally don’t have to think about.

    The only thing that I would push back upon was their springing this on you at the last minute. I was clearly told that getting a physical and passing it was a requirement before I could begin working. In fact, my start date was delayed until I could get to their clinic that did things like breathing tests for use on respirators that regular doctor clinics didn’t have. Not telling you that the physical was required is what was massively inappropriate, and you should definitely determine if that was slipped in somewhere in your paperwork that you missed, if someone dropped the ball, or if they deliberately didn’t inform you that this was a requirement.

    1. Amy Sly*

      Ugh … *basic mining training, *the clinic was not onsite but their preferred clinic.

    2. plp*

      Yeah, I’m digging back into my memory about co-oping in a manufacturing plant and the drug test on our first day also included a physical. I don’t recall all of what they were testing for, but I do know it was more than just blood pressure. We did lift a loft of heavy stuff, even working in engineering, so I get it. We also had to work on the line some days, especially during a build for a new product, so we DID need to generally be able to work the same as a line worker.

      1. Amy Sly*

        Weirdly, even though I play flute and sing, I struggled with the breathing test for the respirator. Apparently, decades of training to use less air so I could go longer between breaths has made it difficult to exhale with enough air pressure to use a respirator.

        1. Sleve McDichael*

          It’s not just you. Everyone struggles with that test. It’s not unusual for people to end up coughing up blood.

          1. OlympiasEpiriot*


            Coughing up blood??

            We have to do that as a part of maintaining Hazwopr certification. I have not ever heard of someone doing that, even the smokers among us.

            Good heavens!

          2. Ace in the Hole*

            Huh. I’ve never had a problem with it, and I’m starting to understand why the clinic staff are always shocked. Although I have to say I’ve never heard of anyone I work with coughing up blood… that sounds… um… really really bad?

    3. Curmudgeon in California*

      I had a job where I needed respiratory screening, I worked with chemicals. They did not pass the details to HR about birth control of “family history of insanity”. It was just pass/fail.

      1. Amy Sly*

        Agreed … that part was also inappropriate, and I missed that on my first read. The only thing that should have been forwarded to HR was pass/fail for the different areas.

    4. Viette*

      Yes, and I think that perhaps the real issue here is that HR/the company has made it the OP’s responsibility to tap out of anything in the hiring or monitoring process that doesn’t apply to her. She says that the company “explained that people in my department aren’t technically bound by [the official policies] but the official policy is quite strict.” She’s been told that she is responsible for things like notifying her group when she’ll be in late or whatever; long story short, they’re expecting her to speak up. “the doctor told me I could refuse and call the company”, to me, says that HR probably thinks it’s on the OP to say, “hey, I’m not actually working on the manufacturing side, and I don’t need to do any of this. I’m just here for the drug test,” and then for OP to ring HR and let them know, and everything would be fine.

      I don’t mean to criticize the OP’s response, because while her personal reaction is more severe than average, a lot of people would indeed go along with it… but speaking for myself, in similar situations I have in fact said, “excuse me, this bit doesn’t apply to me,” and not done it. I think HR is assuming that if people say they feel comfortable refusing to go along with office policy that doesn’t apply to them, they’ll speak up about this, too. It’s not at all hard for some people to do and I think those people tend to forget that for others it can be simply impossible.

      So I would recommend going to HR and saying, “I was very surprised about the physical exam and went along with it because I wasn’t totally sure I didn’t have to. If I didn’t, can you add it to the list of things you let people know they don’t have to comply with? It was a shock and it took a lot more time than I’d allotted for.”

      1. Amy Sly*

        Or alternately, what slack the office employees have is for day-to-day things like timeliness, but the medical exams can’t be fudged, and HR is giving a misleading impression that everything that doesn’t pertain to being white collar staff can be waived.

      2. Senor Montoya*

        On the other hand, the OP hasn’t even worked there yet (first day is Monday), doesn’t *know* that really and truly the rules are bendy for employees with office jobs, doesn’t know how any refusal will be taken, really needs a job.

        I’m ancient and crotchety and I know my rights so if it were me, I’d be Uh, no, what do you mean, I have to have a physical? What do you mean, we’re doing it right now? Yeah, no, let’s call HR and sort this out.

        But I’m not the OP. Totally understand how someone who is in, or feels they are in, an uncertain position and isn’t sure that saying “no” is really ok, would do just as the OP did.

        1. Viette*

          Yes, I meant it when I said that I think a lot of people in that position would go along with it. You don’t know what the repercussions are for refusing, even if it just means you have to come back. And I think OP should definitely raise it with HR — I just mean, I think HR is probably assuming everyone knows what they know and is as comfortable as they are pushing back when appropriate, so I think a big part of addressing it with HR would be in bringing it to their attention.

      3. Question Asker*

        So it’s actually the other way around: HR is the one that’s really strict and it’s my department that doesn’t enforce the rules. We’re asked to keep that on the down low because most of the people in the building (factory and office) are hourly. I was certain that if I called HR they would have told me it was not optional and unfortunately I am distressed enough in medical situations that I knew that wasn’t a phone call I would have been able to make. I’m glad that you’re able to advocate for yourself in situations like that, though! I am working on it, but it’s difficult.

        1. Viette*

          Oh, that’s different from what I was imagining, with HR versus your department. In that case I would definitely recommend letting your department know that the medical exam was a surprise and that they should warn people that it comes with the territory here, because if it’s mandatory (sounds like it is whether your department would want it to be or not) then folks from your department should get a warning.

          I had thought it was just that you were expected to say “no thanks!” on cue, which sucks and you should *still* have been warned — but which is a bit more normal or at least understandable. I’m glad you’re working on it but I really did not mean to imply that you *ought* to be able to speak up, just that people can totally forget that it’s hard to do if it’s not something they themselves struggle with.

    5. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Before she retired my aunt worked in HR for the biggest U.S. telecommunications company and they indicated that office workers may be required to cover field work in an emergency or in the case of a union strike (up to a point I hope — I can’t imagine my aunt ever safely climbing a telephone pole). I’m not sure about all companies that have field/shop workers vs. office workers, but that may be one reason why everyone has to pass the same physical.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        Yeah, I mean, I hope that’s just being the person holding the hi-vis flag while a skilled person is up the pole, right?

    6. Dragoning*

      When I worked in a food processing plant, even as an office Operations intern, we had to take basic safety and get steel-toed shoes and hardhats because…we were in a processing plant.

      1. Amy Sly*

        Yep. My mandatory steel-toes are doing double duty as my hiking shoes as they’re so comfortable. I’m still sad that they’ve started cracking down on hard hat stickers though.

      2. Quill*

        Oh, I love my old steel toes. Actually have worn them as an impromptu brace before, and I don’t lift without them.

    7. Bookworm*

      I am in an office area of a heavy manufacturing plant and we all have to do the same physical as the guy in the plant. So I suspect it is common in heavy manufacturing.

  8. CmdrShepard4ever*

    It seems that this employer’s policy is that anything that the manufacturing side has to do the office side is also required to do even if it does not really make sense or there is a need for those policies to apply to the office side.

    But I wonder if the company is actually requesting particular questions like the family history of insanity, or if the company is just asking the lab to conduct a physical, and from the lab side the family history question happens to be part of it. I think when I have taken a yearly physical from my general doctor I usually get asked about family medical history.

    OP if you are willing to push you might be able to get the company to stop receiving a copy of the physical or having to the company instruct the lab not to ask the family medical history question.

    1. Anonymous Today*

      My job is similar. I work in an office, but since we have field workers, divers, drillers, etc, everyone has to get a physical and pass a work function test. The person giving me the work function test had me carry a lot of heavy boxes and put them on tall shelves and whatnot – definitely not something I expected! I agree that no telling you ahead of time about the physical was a big mistake.

  9. Brett*

    I’m wondering if the company did this because they do require physicals for the manufacturing side of the company, and they are trying to stay in strict compliance with the law by requiring physicals for all job classifications housed in the manufacturing building (creating zero chance that they would be accused of not requiring physicals for everyone in a job classification).

    1. Working Mom*

      That’s my guess – that this is a blanket approach to minimize any potential liability down the road? Even if it’s not applicable to the actual role.

      I also wonder – where does the law land on consent to perform testing? As I understand it, an Employer cannot perform things like blood tests without the participants signed consent; and the consent language must include where the data may go (if for example, it’s going to be data transferred to a third party, etc.) Does this consent rule apply in the same way to a physical exam? Meaning – the Employer can require it, but I would imagine they still have to obtain the Employee’s consent to perform the tests/exam. If that applies; I wonder if it’s in the small print and just was missed / perhaps not called out either by assumption that you would have expected it (because the hiring mgr works there and it’s the norm for them) or because they know it’s odd so they don’t call attention to it.

      I also wonder if the details of questions within the exam are approved / required by the employer or are a “basic” set of questions / data gathering that this particular vendor (lab/dr) includes in what they consider to be a physical exam appropriate for this type of work (the manufacturing side).

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        She signed a medical consent thinking it was just for drug testing, not for a full physical with intrusive questions.

      2. Brett*

        The consent would basically be a formality, because the job offer would be conditional on the physical. If the prospective employee does not give consent, then they lose the job offer.

        1. Senor Montoya*

          Right, hence why OP agreed. Even though the medical facility said, you can refuse, you just need to call HR and get it ok’d

    2. MicroManagered*

      I actually wondered if they ordered up the physical exam for their manufacturing workers by mistake. My employer requires physicals and drug exams for some positions, but not others.

    3. Question Asker*

      You’re probably right. It was just a shock to me because I legitimately didn’t know that it was going to happen until I was there at the clinic.

  10. Claire*

    Literally no one is diagnosed with insanity. You might have had a family member diagnosed with schizophrenia or DID or delusional disorder, but not “insanity”. That’s not a diagnosis, and frankly, I’d be suspicious of the medical credentials held by anyone who asked that question in any sort of official sense. I might personally bring that issue up with HR—that there’s no such thing as an insanity diagnosis, so I was both unable to answer that question in a meaningful way and bewildered by its inclusion in the questionnaire—but if you’re not well versed enough in psychology to have any sort of discussion about it, it might not helpful.

    I’m not sure that this is a particularly constructive comment, but I’m hung up on the idea of asking someone if their family member was diagnosed with insanity!

    1. cmcinnyc*

      Well, this does mean the answer is always no!

      This is the type of question Dr. Van Helsing asks when he shows up with garlic flowers to deal with that pesky bat.

      1. Claire*

        Very true—while I can’t answer that question in a meaningful way, because no one can, I can honestly say no, nobody in my family has been diagnosed with insanity! Several members of my family have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder, so I feel like the questionnaire would want me to say yes, but the answer to the question asked is no.

  11. Hey Nonnie*

    UGH the part about “has any family been diagnosed with ‘insanity'” just RUBS ME THE WRONG WAY.

    The answer is always no, because “insanity” is not a medical diagnosis. It’s not in the DSM. There is no medical billing/insurance code for it. It is not a real human health and physiology thing at all.

    It is occasionally a legal thing, for rulings of competency, but that has little relationship to medical diagnoses. Someone can be ruled incompetent for any number of reasons, and there’s no lawbook or any formal set of rules for which diagnoses are equal to “insane.”

    If you’re going to spring a surprise medical exam on someone, at least have the courtesy to make it a valid one…

  12. henrietta*

    Aside from the nature of the exam, I’d make ever so sure that HR had that report locked down tight, and that even viewing it was limited to exceedingly few people. I get that the release was signed, but that’s super sketchy, to just have all that data where any person could access it.

  13. glitterdome*

    My old company actually does this, pre-employment but post-offer and the medical file is not shared with HR (and kept separate in the clinic with access limited). When I used to work in the clinic I actually had a run-in with HR because I wouldn’t let them see someone’s whole file.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      This is the way it’s supposed to be. The clinic does the physical, then sends a pass/fail notice to HR based on generic criteria. HR should NEVER get personal health data.

      1. glitterdome*

        Yup. When I refused to give/show the whole file to HR I thought she was going to lose it.

  14. Quickbeam*

    Their worker’s compensation carrier may require it all employees to have a pre-employment physical. Someone should have told OP but I think it is a routine ask for jobs in the US. In my last 50 years of work I’ve had at least a physical prior to every job including lab work, drug screens, fitness exam, hair analysis and being strapped into a machine called the Back 2000.

    1. Cincinnati*

      Quickbeam – what industry are you in? A fitness exam and hair analysis seems extreme for say, an AP clerk working for a Title company or any other one of the other million “pure” white-collar jobs

    2. Risha*

      This is absolutely not a routine ask for jobs in the US, or else all of the rest of us wouldn’t be so shocked right not. It sounds like it’s a routine ask in your industry, which is entirely different.

      For the record, I had to get a drug (urine) test before one job. I’ve literally never had anything else medical asked of me for that or any other job.

      1. Quill*

        I’ve had drug tests and a “please prove you’ve had a hepatitis vaccine and / or been tested for TB”

        And that’s basically it, aside from being informed that I might need an allergy test to work in certain areas because of materials they were working with

    3. Claire*

      Speaking as an American, the only times that anyone in my family has been asked for a medical examination by an employer is when my mother took a drug test to become a certified teacher and for my uncle’s various construction jobs. Unless your job requires manual labor, which it seems OP’s does not, this is not a standard requirement.

      1. Snow globe*

        And even if your job requires manual labor, there is no reason to ask about birth control or family history of mental illness!

    4. emeemay*

      If I want my health insurance discount, I go for a yearly physical.

      Never in my life have I had to do any medical exam beyond basic drug screening prior to a job. Not for food service, retail, or the video position I’m in now. It’s not standard practice in the US at all.

      1. Senor Montoya*

        You go for a physical, but I’ll bet that the only info HR gets is, you went for a physical. Not the results of the physical. And you got to go to your own provider.

      2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        The only time I did a physical was when I worked at a summer camp. The county had a “whole camp” policy, where they had to have medical forms (the exact same medical forms) on file for everyone at camp, be they four years old or 64 years old.

        There was even a line on the form “If female, has camper been spoken to about menstruation?” which I am sure was quite the hoot among the counselors who were retired teachers in their 60s.

      3. annie o mous*

        It can be. I have worked 2 places that required a physical. Basically they screened for back and other musculoskeletal issues. Most of this was required by the company’s insurance, to see if there were any pre-existing conditions.

    5. Gazebo Slayer*

      One more person here to say no, it is not routine at all. The closest I’ve ever had to a physical for any job, including ones in manufacturing, was a drug test once. And I’ve had way more jobs than someone who’s only 38 should.

  15. Curmudgeon in California*

    This is horrible. Especially when they send your numbers (weight, BMI, labs, etc) to bloody HR!!!

    I would never want my employer to have such potentially discriminatory data. I don’t GAF about them reducing insurance costs, because the only way they can do that is by discriminating against ordinary people.

    If they take adverse action against you (high health insurance copays, harassment about diet/weight/exercise, etc.) I would contact a discrimination lawyer.

    I have worked for a place where people who worked with chemicals or did field work had to have physicals. The only thing they reported to HR was pass/fail. The physicals were only to establish baselines to prevent/catch workplace damage. Nothing was ever asked about family history of “insanity”.

    This place is waaaaaaay overreaching, and you might want to reconsider working for them with such a paternalistic attitude.

  16. Emma*

    I agree, this is very invasive! I could be mistaken though, it seems as if the fault lies with the clinic you saw. I work at a manufacturing facility that uses hazardous chemicals, so a physical was required before I started. This was to ensure that I didn’t have any pre-existing conditions that would flare up or be triggered by an accidental exposure. During my pre-employment exam, the doctor was very well spoken and clear as to why certain testing was required. For example, I was definitely not asked about “insanity” (also this seems like such weird thing for ANY doctor to ask?! we don’t call it “insanity” anymore…). I was however, required to do some lung testing, blood work, and range of motion exam.

    I’m so sorry this happened to you. It might be worth mentioning to you new employer that the reach of the question seemed out of scope and usual, given the work and exposures you may have. I hope the job is as exciting as you hope for and this was just a weird, unfortunate, circumstance.

  17. Texan In Exile*

    I worked for a manufacturing company and had to have a pre-employment physical, although they did not ask those invasive questions. I think the reason I had to do it was the union said if factory people have to do it, so does everyone else.

    For the factory people, I can see how it would be useful. Part of mine was a hearing test – if I want to file a workers’ comp claim after ten years in the factory, the company can say, “This was your baseline level of hearing when you started.” I had to have a physical for the Peace Corps for the same reason, I think – they didn’t want to pay comp claims for conditions that existed before I started.

    That’s not to say I liked the exams. I still found them invasive and they ticked me off.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      When I worked with chemicals, I had to have spirometry, hearing, vaccination and blood work. Every year. All they reported to us (HR & Safety – I was Safety) was pass/fail. They did not send us people’s numbers. HR should never have private health data from medical exams. Too much opportunity for discrimination.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      But were you in the union?

      Because “the union has to do it” isn’t a good enough excuse…since you’re not in the union and they’re also protected in different ways than you are. They’re certainly not paying you like you’re a union worker, if you’re not. Thumbs down to this shenanigans.

      1. Texan In Exile*

        Oh, I agree! And I wish I were in a union – I would actually be protected.

        I think the union hated the idea and threw in the, “If you’re going to make us do this, then we’re going to make it hurt for corporate by making you spend the money to give the exams to everyone.”

    3. Lost in the Woods*

      This is definitely true, though it does go both ways. The practice I work at does these for a local university which has (apparently) a lot of people doing research with lasers, so They are required to get an eye exam to make sure they don’t have any eye issues prior to lasers. If they do have a laser-related eye issue, they could pull the record of the baseline exam and use it to help getting work comp benefits. (Granted, eye exams are a lot less invasive and emotionally charged than a physical, and we didn’t ask bizarre or invasive questions; it was just a regular check up with some extra testing). The key is that we sent no private health info; the doctor just signed a couple of forms to prove that the exam had happened. What the OP describes, with health info being sent to the company, is highly irregular. She may have signed something authorizing the release, which means it may be legal, but regardless it’s very weird and sketchy.

    4. nymitz*

      For Peace Corps it’s so they can make sure you’re relatively healthy before they send you out to a place where you can be 12 hours drive away from what we’d consider even basic medical care!

      It’s also because the onsite medical team will be responsible for taking care of you during your service, and they want to know what they’re dealing with when you arrive in country, both in terms of risk factors and in terms of what medications they need to have on hand for your routine care (e.g. if you’re asthmatic and they need to stock your particular type of inhaler).

  18. Liz*

    I had the same issue with a former job; pharma company WITH manufacturing onsite, BUT i was informed up front about the need for a full physical, even though i was on the office side of things and not allowed to go anywhere near the manufacturing buildings. i was fine with it, but would have been pretty ticked if i consented to just a drug test, but then found out it was a full physical. Which, if I recall, including vision and hearing tests, as well as everything else. I think perhaps their reasoning was, everyone is subject to this for employment, since it was mandatory for the manufacturing side, and they wanted to make sure it was fair to all new hires, even those where it wasn’t actually relevant to the job.

    1. Liz*

      I shouldn’t have said issue, but experience.

      But some of the questions, yes, they were QUITE invasion. And like i said, i don’t recall exactly what the exam entailed, except it was far more detailed and involved than any my own dr. had ever done.

  19. CatMom*

    Well at least OP and anyone else can reasonably answer “no” to the “insanity” question since……that’s not a real diagnosis. How bizarre (and, as has been pointed out, potentially illegal).

  20. Junior Assistant Peon*

    The word “insanity” rather than “mental illness” or something of that nature suggests that this is a case of “this is how we’ve always done it” and no one has revisited a decades-old onboarding procedure.

    I once had a medical exam at hire in the company nurse’s office at an old-school company that doesn’t exist anymore. Definitely a relic of a bygone era.

  21. Betty*

    I don’t think this is exactly likely, but is it possible that the drug testers made a mistake? That HR just requested a drug test and they saw the company name and went into default mode and tacked the physical on?

    1. MsMamaBear*

      That is what I was thinking, that maybe the clinic made a mistake and OP shouldn’t have had the physical at all. I completely understand being taken aback, springing the physical after already being there for 2 hours, good grief.

    2. Rockin Takin*

      Or HR/ the hiring manager could have checked the wrong box when they sent info over to the clinic.

      At my job there are about 20 options for what physicals are required for the jobs I hire for. I have to triple check that I’ve selected the correct ones (like is this person driving a forklift, are they going to wear a respirator, etc?)

  22. Jedi Squirrel*

    The fact that the company wanted a physical for an office worker doesn’t surprise me a bit. It is probably related to health or life insurance costs. (Which is why some companies won’t hire smokers—because they have higher health costs on average.) I am totally okay with this part.

    The fact that it was sprung on the employee is a bit disturbing. Either the employer didn’t inform the employee and they should have, or the clinic thought the employee was working on the floor and not in the office. But that insanity question—that’s right out of the 1960s and JUST PLAIN WRONG! Please let your HR department know.

  23. Anon for this*

    I had to submit to a physical exam for a secretary job in the 1980s. The doctor’s office was dirty, plus he stuck a finger up my butthole, much to my surprise. Today, I would sue everyone in sight plus have the doctor arrested. Then, I was young and dumb and didn’t say anything.

  24. SarcastiCarrie*

    I work and have always worked in the offices attached to factories. OSHA requires a baseline and an annual hearing test (which asks a bunch of questions about loud hobbies). All my jobs have required a drug screen (using hair). I’ve had to lift different weights, get a chest x-ray, lead test, and basic family history. None of this sounds weird to me at all. Not even a little weird. Very normal pre-employment screening for the office workers at factories.

  25. MissDisplaced*

    It’s not bonkers.
    I worked for a chemical company. And while I never actually came into contact with any chemicals or worked in or around the labs (I was totally an office-only position) nevertheless EVERYONE had to have a physical prior to starting the job–this was done after the formal job offer. The reason being that because it was a chemical company, they had to establish a baseline of the health of employees prior to employment (yes there had been lawsuits in the past).

    These were done onsite by the company nurse, and I believe you could take the option of using your own doctor if they followed and reported the same tests. That being said, while they were fairly thorough, it was not nearly as full-scale as what my personal doctor does. I did not have to get undressed and there were no female exams or blood tests, though they did do an EKG. They really weren’t looking to disqualify anyone due to this.

    OP, If you want the job, I think your best bet may be to ask about using your own doctor for the exam.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Oh, I wanted to also say that the office workers had to complete a LOT of safety trainings because the labs were all onsite. Thinks that honestly, we’d never come into contact with as we weren’t even allowed to enter the labs, but due to policy ALL employees had to have. Lockout/Tagout! It took forever!

    2. Old Cynic*

      I, too, worked for a chemical company and they did pre-employment and annual physicals on all employees. They brought in trailers and set up a complete medical clinic on-site for a couple of weeks. Vision and hearing tests were included as were drug screens.

      As far as I know, no results were shared with the company. I would presume if there were some sort of problem they would have to share some information but don’t recall anything like that happening.

  26. Sharon*

    The “insanity” question aside, I am guessing that the company is hesitant to make requirements for one group of employees (the ones on the manufacturing floor) and not another. I know Allison said they only have to require it for all employees in a specific job category, not all employees, but I can see someone in HR or Legal wanting to err on the side of caution.

    I had a job once that required an extensive FBI background check. For reasons unrelated to my actual background (it was a paperwork issue), I never was fully cleared. The company hired me anyway; my ID badge wouldn’t allow me in certain areas, which didn’t matter because my job didn’t require me to go there.

  27. Less Bread More Taxes*

    I moved to France for a job last year and that was the first time I ever had to do a medical for a job. Apparently it’s the norm here. I forgot how incensed I was over it until I read today’s letter! I don’t even get health insurance through this job, so it’s absolutely ridiculous. My European boyfriend has always had to do medicals for jobs. When I asked why on Earth that’s the norm, he said it’s so the employer can get rid of you if you’re going to cost them money in healthcare. What. on. Earth.

    If I had any legal or social standing to do so, I would have absolutely pushed back on it. Your employer does not need any of this information.

    1. Beth Jacobs*

      See my comment below. I believe this a common legal requirement in Europe. I don’t think it’s because of healthcare costs, as most of the EU has a single payer system.

    2. Amethystmoon*

      I believe companies can be technically sued for things like that in the U.S. None would ever admit anyway that was why they got rid of the employee.

      1. Less Bread More Taxes*

        It’s kinda nuts. I’m so glad the US generally protects people’ medical info and doesn’t fire people based on health status.

    3. Eurodance*

      Nooo, that’s not the reason why European employers require this wtf!

      I’m in Europe, I’ve always had to do physicals before starting my job (or in the first few days of my jobs) for the past 20 years. But that’s not because they want to get rid of you, it’s to determine whether any condition you may develop during your employment is caused BY your employment! E.g., you get a slipped disk, is it because you were sitting too much/didn’t have an ergonomic chair, or was this actually preconsisting and isn’t caused by your job? This is because injuries/illnesses/accidents caused BY your job or AT WORK have to be paid for BY your employer, so any rehab or special equipment you require for curative or rehab purposes will be covered by your employer plus they can’t fire you for it.

      Employers in Europe care that you’re healthy because firing here is actually REALLY HARD already and even harder when you’re sick.

      And then of course there’s the special circumstances when you work around machinery or in production or the health care system (in which case yes, an offer can be pulled if you’re not fit for it, but I have NEVER seen this happen). No one wants a case of Typhoid Mary.

  28. Beth Jacobs*

    Even when a doctor’s examination is necessary because the job is physically demanding, there’s a right and wrong way to them. In my jurisdiction, all workers (barring some minimal part time work) must undergo a physical, it’s required by law to mitigate occupational health risks. However, noone’s sending their employers confidential data! Instead, the employer lists the demands of the job (eg. lifting weight, night shifts) and the doctor produces a document saying a) fit to work, b) fit to work with the following accommodation c) unfit to work. The employer doesn’t see the actual medical data supporting that statement. For office work, the statement can be provided by your regular GP.

    1. Less Bread More Taxes*

      This is how mine was done too… it still feels icky. I’m sure there are laws preventing the doctor from sharing certain info, but I just don’t want to have to share that info in the first place with someone who isn’t my personal GP.

  29. Dragoning*

    This is funny to me considering I have an eye exam tomorrow at the my employer’s onsite health clinic because it’s a requirement for my job.

    No, this was never mentioned to be before hiring.

    Fortunately it’s largely noninvasive.

  30. Yes Anastasia*

    I worked in the public sector in Massachusetts and had to get a physical for (I presume) old school civil service reasons. Howver, they were very transparent about the requirement and I don’t remember it being invasive – as I recall I got a hearing test and a few other things. Certainly I wasn’t asked such weird and intrusive questions!

  31. Chwie*

    While Alison pointed out that the law states that the examiner is only supposed to send CONCLUSIONS to your employer, I feel like she missed the fact that the exact results were sent along. The OP states that “They sent the results of that physical exam (with details including my weight/BMI, my blood pressure, my heart rate) directly to HR via email.” This I find outrageous, and enraging. Their employer has no business knowing their weight or BMI specifics – I thought the law was keeping this from them, and just allowing the examiner to state that they are healthy and fit for duty in their position?

    1. Question Asker*

      I could be wrong about what exact data was sent over. The sheet that they gave me had all that information on it, and I assumed that HR got a copy of that, but I could be wrong. I also assumed it was email but it could have been a different program. I’m not sure HIPAA would be violated though because I signed a consent form to share that data?

      (Also, the BMI information on the sheet they gave me listed it like this: “[BMI NUMBER] – Abnormal”. Which, like the insanity check box, is just….. not how it’s done? And the nurse WATCHED me put my phone and my wallet and my car keys etc into my pocket immediately before stepping on the scale and didnt say anything lmao).

    2. WellRed*

      Right? I request general non medical deidentfied Medicare data every month. It is password protected and they won’t email the password.

  32. not always right*

    I had a similar experience when I was hired for an office job for an airline. That physical included an gyno exam. When I questioned it, they said it was standard for all women. I would have told them to shove it, but I was in desperate need of a job which only lasted a year; however, it did lead to an even crappier job which then led to one of my best jobs ever.

    1. LJay*


      I’ve worked for several US airlines and have never had to do more than a drug test. I’m hoping this was either a long time ago or maybe in a different country because that is definitely not standard or acceptable.

  33. Jerry*

    It’s crappy that they’re doing this at all , but on top of that it’s also not a great practice to send that sort of information via email. The company is putting themselves (and the privacy of their employees) at all kinds of risk in the event that their email system gets compromised and employee health records are accessed as a result. Healthcare organizations take this sort of thing very seriously and it sounds like your employer is being pretty cavalier about how this private data is being communicated and stored.

    1. FriendlyCanadian*

      Op came back and said she actually didn’t know what I do was sent to HR or if it was emailed

  34. Moxie*

    I’m no expert, but isn’t sending personal health info over email a bit sketchy? I thought it was unsecure and a HIPAA violation. Even if the clinic is allowed (by you) to disclose the info, I’m shocked that it can just be emailed.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I’m taking that bit with a grain of salt. It’s possible they are using a platform that encrypts the data and sends it via a different port than standard email, but the system may look very similar to email. (I’m going to give the clinic the benefit of the doubt and assume they understand how to be HIPAA compliant.)

  35. Amethystmoon*

    This is bonkers. How is it not going to lead to discrimination? Maybe it won’t be against letter writer, but surely it’s happened to others or will happen in the future? Oh sure, they all will come up with a legal way to do it so they can’t be sued, but it still is discrimination.

  36. Cari*

    I actually work in this field—I work for a company who provides pre-employment and pre-deployment medical screenings (for cities, counties, police and fire, and private defense contractors). OP is spot on in being weirded out about the family history question—that should never have been asked as part of this evaluation. I also get being uncomfortable with the results being sent to the employer—with my company as a third party, the only thing the employer receives is a “medically qualified” notification. If any issue is identified, the employer doesn’t know what the issue is and the applicant/employee is given time to provide more information to address the issue as it relates to particular job functions. I’ve seen first hand how these evaluations can be useful, but it sounds like this company could have handled the process in a much better way which hopefully would have been less stressful for poor OP.

  37. EnvSci*

    I work at a large engineering firm and everyone who does site visits has to get an annual physical. It’s pretty standard in jobs where you could be exposed to hazardous substances or loud noises that over time might cause health issues. Typically the first physical is to set a baseline so that your employer can ensure your job isn’t making you sick. The insanity question seems out there but all the others are pretty standard from what I’ve experienced.

    1. Question Asker*

      Thanks Alison for the context and answer and to everyone else for your comments. Yes, I’m more bothered in medical situations than most people… which is not a detail that is in any way relevant to my employment. It makes sense that it might be a baseline requirement for all people working there because of the factory but it should definitely have been communicated clearly upfront so I could have prepared.

      The clinic was a chain urgent care facility. There was zero mention of the physical until the day it happened. At my last interview, after I was offered the job, and was about to leave, the interviewer said “By the way, you’ll have to pass a drug test, it’s easy, just 5 min” and that was that. I didn’t receive any information from HR until the day OF the test, which was almost a week later. That email said “show up for your drug test/physical” but I missed the detail about the physical until I was literally standing at the clinic counter to check in. I assume because it is an urgent care place I was the utter lowest priority; I saw people walk in after me and leave before me all before I was ever called to the back.

      In addition to the “Insanity” checkbox there were a number of other questions that gave me pause. I sideeye any medical facility that only includes M/F as sex options (not even gender!). The printout listed my BMI as “abnormal” and the nurse watched me put my phone, wallet, etc into my purse at the time; in the past I’ve always been asked to take off my shoes and empty my pockets before being weighed. Had to do an eye test despite the fact that I had been to an optometrist two weeks prior (and probably failed that eye test because I was wearing 2.5 year old glasses while waiting for the new ones to come). Stuff like that.

      I didn’t say anything, started the job, and it’s all been professional and fine since then. Additionally, people LOVE this company – it does have a very employee friendly outlook, despite what it might seem from the question. I know I’ve just started, but I’ve already witnessed mindset in action numerous times. My department is a little outside the rest of the other office departments additionally; we’re given latitude that most of the other office workers don’t have. I’m mostly going to try and forget this ever happened, but once I’ve been here awhile, if it comes up naturally, I will talk about my experience.

      Thanks everyone again for your thoughts!

  38. Wednesday*

    I also work an office job in a manufacturing facility, and my drug test/medical screening went down exactly as LW describes.

    In the off chance you just got hired here, LW, please also note that during onboarding they will ALSO spring an SAT-style timed IQ test on you, file it away, and never allow you to know the results.

    1. Amy Sly*

      New job (also office work for an industrial company) did tell me the results of the IQ test: “I wanted you to know that you have the best score on our test ever. Other people have gotten perfect, but you did it faster. If you can do that, why do you want to work here?”

  39. Mike S*

    Ages ago, I worked for an engineering consultancy. Everyone had to take a plant safety class, regardless of what they did. One of the owners (also in the class) explained that it simplified their insurance, because they didn’t have to track who had taken the class, and who hadn’t.
    At my current job, a hospital, new hires have to take a TB test. If they pass it, they have to take another one 2 weeks later. Failure to take the tests is grounds for termination. (If you fail a test, you’ll have to wear a mask, and might have other limitations on what you can do, but you won’t get fired.)

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      When my husband was in grad school, his degree program used the MRI machines at a local hospital, and they required a TB test on file for anyone allowed in the facility. But the hospital would lose the certificate every few months, and make him go get a new test.

      They lost his certificate so many times one year, he actually asked student health if it was safe to get that many TB tests in a row.

    2. AnonRN*

      The CDC is no longer recommending routine TB tests for low-risk and asymptomatic people. I’ll find out in May whether I can avoid getting stuck in the arm! This will be at my annual mini-physical, which includes heart rate, blood pressure, a question about whether I’ve had my cholesterol checked, a review of my allergies including latex, and N95 mask fit testing. (It seems like a scattershot grouping of tests!)

    3. Blueberry*

      The hospital I worked at required yearly TB tests, which considering how often I got coughed on I actually appreciated. Having to have a strip-down physical before I started the job would have given me pause, though.

  40. Oh No She Di'int*

    Third rail here. I wonder if there is some class/race element at work. OP, is there a noticeable class or race difference in the demographics of those on the manufacturing side vs. the office side? Or was there perhaps once such a division? I worked in a place several years ago that had a similar division. And that place did have different rules for people on different sides (e.g., being subject to drug tests, etc.). It ended up feeling yucky because essentially all of the black and brown people–the black and brown men in particular–and those from a less middle class background ended up being subject to tests and policies that others were not subjected to. Obviously it wasn’t a clean and perfect division between the two sides, but you could see which way the tests were leaning.

    I don’t know if this is the case at OP’s job, but perhaps this overreach is the company’s way of trying to avoid a yucky situation like the one I witnessed.

    1. Amy Sly*

      Honestly, if there’s a class element at work here, it feels like it’s appearing in the “You’re never going to get your hands dirty, so you shouldn’t have to get an exam” type comments. People who actually build things, instead of sitting at computers so they can read blogs during the work day, have to go through stuff like this at most of their jobs. Yes, this company handled it poorly by not telling the LW it was required, and their clinic has some issues with a few of the questions and information forwarding to HR, but the mere requirement to have a physical is not unusual to be on an industrial plant.

      1. Mahkara*

        Agreed. It’s really, really common if you’re going to be in a manufacturing site to get this kind of physical. I had one as an engineer. So did all of the operators. I don’t know about the office workers and execs, but I’d guess they got them too. (And if they were exempt, I’d agree that it was rather classist and unfair.)

  41. noahwynn*

    I had a required physical when I was a paramedic. The company didn’t receive any detailed information though, just that I met the requirements of the job. I remember a drug test, being required to demonstrate I could lift a certain amount of weight from the floor, several questions about medical history, and a super basic exam.

  42. Nicki Name*

    I’ve worked a desk job at a manufacturing plant and had to take a basic physical exam for that, too. My understanding was it provided a baseline in case of a workers’ comp claim. But they did clearly communicate that it was going to be a physical exam.

    The same company also had a policy that since the blue-collar workers had to be randomly drug-tested, everyone should get randomly drug-tested. Up to and including C-level executives.

  43. HotSauce*

    This is just so gross to me. Also, the clinic just “emailed the results” to her employer? How does OP know if that email is secure? Who has access to that information. I don’t think I could work for an employer who requested such invasive, personal information.

  44. Rockin Takin*

    I had to do a fit for duty test for an animal lab tech job once. The nurse doing the test was super odd about it. At one point she just stared at me then said “get on the floor on your knees. NOW.” and I awkwardly did. Then she said “Crawl. Crawl to me on your hands and knees.”
    I get that it was legit a part of the test, but the way she said it was soooo odd.

    1. Amethystmoon*

      What about people who can’t even walk, much less crawl? This to me is really problematic.

      1. Amy Sly*

        Then they’re not fit for the job. That happens sometimes when the job is more than inconveniencing electrons.

        1. Tinker*

          I’d think that would illustrate the problem with applying job requirements for one job to another job that requires different things from the person doing it?

          Also, I’m kind of curious what you think a person who isn’t fit for highly physical jobs ought to do for a living that is worthy of being spoken of with respect.

          1. Amy Sly*

            All of my jobs involve inconveniencing electrons. Those jobs are certainly worthy of respect, but it’s also fair to recognize that they aren’t physically strenuous. So long as you can input letters and move a mouse, you can be Stephen Hawking levels of disabled and still be productive. In that case, yes, demanding perfect health is ridiculous.

            But an animal lab tech who can’t walk isn’t going to work out. A person who can’t lift, can’t stand, can’t walk, can’t breathe … can’t do quite a lot of jobs. They also may not be safe to be in or even near areas more dangerous than an office. And it’s not unfair for the people who are buying labor to insist that the labor they’re paying for actually can do the task they need done and be safe while they are doing it.

      2. Rockin Takin*

        This job required handling lab animals, including full size pigs and very large dogs. I had to be able to lift 50lbs, crawl on the ground under stalls, power spray kennels with a heavy industrial hose, move animals, etc. I also had to clean mice cages and that was a lot of repetitive motion. This physical was very much necessary for the job. If you weren’t able to do those things, there wasn’t really anything you could do. It was all manual labor.

        I kind of enjoyed it because it was a good workout every day, but wouldn’t want to do that work forever. It’s pretty hard on the body.

        1. WellRed*

          I missed the animal part at first and thought you’d stumbled into a very strange scenario…

  45. NLMC*

    I wonder if the wrong orders were sent to the lab? If they use the same lab for all testing it’s possible they sent the one for the manufacturing side and not the office side.
    The insanity question should not have been asked either way however.

  46. bleh*

    WTF – It’s only ok if they ask men about their reproductive behaviors too. Which I’m pretty certain they do not. Otherwise, it’s discriminatory against women!!! “Are you on birth control” ? That question would get a pretty hard core response from me.

    1. Rockin Takin*

      If the physical is for working with chemicals or wearing a respirator, they may require a full list of medications, including if you are on birth control, allergy meds, etc. There really are jobs where that is something they need to know to ensure someone is fit for duty. But those answers are usually confidential and the medical facility merely tells the employer if the potential employee passed or not.

      I had a respirator physical recently and it was a day after I had a positive pee test. I literally had only told my husband, but I couldn’t complete the physical and had to disclose my positive test to the nurse. They did NOT disclose my pregnancy to my employer, they simply told them I was unable to complete the test.

      Whether or not that type of physical was required for LW, however, is not for sure. Maybe they checked the wrong physical box, maybe all office workers are required to have the same physical as the manufacturing workers for some reason.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Well, they need to ask ALL the medications you take, usually to establish the baseline. They would ask men if, for example, they take Viagra. I don’t see that as being sexist–it’s a drug women take.

      But this is still very rare for most companies to do this. Like I said, chemical and pharma companies and some manufacturing companies do this, depending on what they manufacture (due to chemical or metals exposure potential likely). Likewise hospitals, police, etc.

      My dad worked in a factory and had to have a physical every 2x per year because the job involved working with asbestos. It is what it is. Look at it this way, it’s part of being safe to the public and keeping employees safe.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s for oral contraceptives.

      So it’s not “What kind of birth control do you use?” it’s about the medical stuff.

      1. bleh*

        Except that is *not* what they asked according to OP. They asked specifically about birth control.

        1. Rockin Takin*

          OP could be generalizing. Like the questions list could have been “do you take allergy meds” “do you take meds for blood pressure” “do you take oral contraceptives”

          If they legit just asked about birth control, that is odd. But I just wanted to point out that some physicals very much require a list of meds, including birth control.

          1. Question Asker*

            @Rockin, they did specifically ask about birth control, although the form that I got (and I assume the company got as well) just said “conducted a medication review” which is odd because I’m not on any medication, including bc (not that j want the company to know that!)

            1. Rockin Takin*

              Ah. That’s weird if they said reviewed meds but only asked you whether or not you take birth control.
              Even if you aren’t on any meds, they still had a discussion about them with you which is why it would say reviewed meds.
              You should double check what info the company actually got. During my physicals they give me all the info, but what was delivered to the company was simply a pass/fail document.
              Sorry you had to go through such a weird and invasive experience.

        2. bleh*

          Also, I would bet all kinds of money that they *don’t* ask men about viagra. The truth is that the medical field is part of the same culture we all live in that treats female bodies quite differently from male ones (and the horrible treatment of trans people by some medical professionals is its own nightmare).

          I almost lost a Fulbright because I was “required” to get a full medical exam with gynecological tests to accept it. Instead, I got a Dr to sign the form that I was fine after BP and a few questions because NOPE. That’s literally forcing you to spread your legs for the man. Not gonna happen. It did take finding a second Dr. and being very clear about what I needed, and what I was not going to do. One understands that they don’t want you unhealthy in another country for a year, but there is no need for a Papanicolaou test unless they screen everyone for every common or likely cancer every time. Hint: they don’t.

            1. Agnodike*

              Yes, a Papanicolau test is often colloquially called a Pap smear. You probably could have googled that.

              1. bleh*

                Odoliciou do you know how many laboratory tests are smears on a slide to look at through a microscope? Funny how only when the sample comes from a woman’s insides do we actually refer to it as a smear in the general public. Hence my use of the actual test name Papanicolaou.

  47. Lauren*

    This is the kind of thing that would bother me enough that I’d give my notice over it. I’d just want out of that job fast, and wouldn’t stay even if I needed the money – but I am crazy and can’t let things like this go.

    1. DustyJ*

      You’re not the only one. Forced medical exams – squick squick squick!

      And even without the squick factor – there are things I do not want my managers to know. I wouldn’t stick around long enough for them to use the results against me – I’d be job-searching almost before I’d adjusted my chair height.

  48. Stella*

    Personally, I would start job searching. Really the worst part is that they didn’t warn you and give you a chance to ask questions. I think someone needs to pass a law to say these have to be job related. What was even the point of it? I think by pulling this stunt, they have forfeited any right to expect you to stay long enough to be useful. You need the job, so don’t quit right away, but start job searching. I have no idea how you would present this on a resume or in interviews. But this just seems like a bad sign. Might depend on your field I guess.

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      Would you really start job searching though? Over this? I mean it’s annoying and jarring, but I’m not sure that it’s quit-worthy. I think we can safely assume that there are aspects of the job that OP likes and is attracted to, or she wouldn’t have sought it out and accepted it. There may be many such aspects. They happened to do this one bizarre thing, which–let’s face it–albeit disturbing did not actually harm OP. I don’t know that I’d be quitting over that.

      I feel like we see comments like this a lot on this forum and I wonder about the usefulness of that sentiment. I think it may be easy to underestimate how grueling, disheartening, and sometimes humiliating job hunting can be. I just think a lot more information is required, and evidence of more wrongdoing before I’d be advising someone to quit.

      1. Stella*

        Well, this is why I say I’d start job searching. I’d figure it would take long enough to get an offer that by the time it happened, I’d know whether this was a bad sign or a one off. That said, I think my field may be shaping my opinion here because I work in tech. There are a lot of people in tech who object to drug screens on the grounds that they should be able to work while on marijuana. I don’t do any drugs, but I do have multiple disabilities and you could argue one affects my ability to do my job, but it works out because in practice it only rarely slows me down and I’m usually faster than everyone else anyway. But some of my disabilities are extremely stigmatized. It would be one thing if they warned me in advance and explained why. If someone sprung something like this on me, though, I would not be happy. No one needs to know that I have a mental illness or that I take thyroid medication. So you find out you are having a doctor examine you and you have to decide whether it is a worse idea to lie or to reveal information that could easily be used against you. I’d honestly wonder if I had the wrong address or something.

        So yes, I honestly do think I would start job searching. I think this might be a question of different norms. For example, I wouldn’t blink at a multi-hour timed assessment of my specific skills because this is normal in my industry. If you are a doctor, though, and someone wanted you to examine a patient before hiring you, you’d probably balk.

        I hadn’t realized medical exams were so common in jobs. For me, I try very hard to keep some of my medical information private from my employer because of the kinds of reactions I’ve experienced.

        So it is possible this is the wrong advice, but it is what I think I would do. Because at least in my area and my industry, it would be so out of the norm that it would indicate the employer was going to violate all kinds of boundaries.

    2. Question Asker*

      Except for this, the company seemed EXTREMELY professional and upfront beforehand, and has been nothing but professional and upfront since. I am warned now to watch out for additional signs but truly there are no flags. I’m chalking it up to a very unpleasant experience that I won’t have to repeat and trying to forget about it.

      1. Blueberry*

        May your new job continue to be excellent. It’s totally understandable that you want to forget this whole event, but if you feel up to it, it might be a good idea to point out to HR that you weren’t told about the physical, without actually complaining about having had to have the physical — as various commenters pointed out with varying degrees of gentleness there are likely good reasons for it, though it absolutely should not have been sprung on you as a surprise. That might have been a mistake they would want to correct.

      2. Mahkara*

        Again, aside from the weird “insanity” question, this sounds very typical to me of working in any manufacturing company.

        I agree they should have told you upfront that the job was contingent upon a background check, drug screen, and physical. But jobs in this industry all pretty commonly *are* dependent upon physicals. (Mine were generally pretty thorough, too, including bloodwork, hearing tests, vision tests, lung capacity tests, etc.)

      3. Stella*

        This definitely makes it sound like an industry thing. It sounds like maybe this is standard enough for manufacturing that they sort of assumed you were used to this. I don’t know whether it is worth doing or not, but it sounds like the kind of thing where if you told the right person how jarring and unexpected this was for you and suggested they warn future candidates from other industries, they would apologize and start warning people. A lot of things are easy to handle if you know in advance and have an explanation.

  49. Absurda*

    Ugh, I feel for you since this happened to me, too. My very first job while I was still in high school was for a company that had office workers, truck drivers and heavy machinery operators. I was applying for a part-time (2 hours per day after school) office job. No benefits, no health insurance, no life insurance, minimum wage. They told me the job required a drug test, I showed up and found out I needed not only a drug test but also a physical with a pelvic exam (talk about invasive! – though luckily the doctor decided not to do the pelvic). I was 17 and applying for a job that consisted of photo copying and filing. So, yeah, some employers do this sort of thing for everyone they hire whether it’s appropriate or not.

    This was my first job so I thought this was normal. Never had this experience with any other job (though I have had background checks).

      1. Absurda*

        Yeah, definitely think my age was why the doctor decided not to do the pelvic. This was over 20 years ago, there may have been questions about possible pregnancy or STDs but I don’t remember for sure. No one really seemed to think this was outrageous or out of bounds, though.

    1. Librarianne*

      I mentioned below before seeing this that I had to have an STD screen to be a substitute teacher. WTF.

  50. Ana Gram*

    Just a quick correction- I hire cops and we absolutely require them to pass a medical exam prior to a job offer. As the ADA notes, we send them to it after we’ve made a conditional offer but definitely not after we offer them the job. I can’t speak to other industries, but it’s not across the board illegal to require medical exams before a formal offer. I will note that our medical vendor just tells us if a candidate has passed or failed- no other details. Also, they don’t ask about insanity…

  51. CupcakeCounter*

    This seems completely normal to me with the exception of the insanity question…
    I work in corporate finance (currently for a large manufacturing company and previously in trucking) and have never once had a job where I didn’t receive a brief physical when I took my drug test. Outside of the insanity question (they asked about general depression and anxiety while referencing their EAP plan but it was very high level and more generalized tone of “if you have these things and need help here are the resources we offer”), everything else you mentioned was included in all of them.

    1. WellRed*

      What does a woman’s birth control choice have to do with her job abilities and do they ask men the same question?

  52. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    One OldJob gave me a medical exam as part of their onboarding. It was an office job at a large manufacturing company. No insanity questions though! This was 20 years ago and I don’t know if they still do that. Back at the time, I was just happy to get a free physical, and never thought to ask how it would be used.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Adding to my comment, and I wasn’t blindsided by it – it was separate from the drug screen (iirc, been a while!) and I was asked to schedule a time for a medical exam, and knew I was going to get one. They had their own onsite clinic that I had to go to.

  53. Heavy Equipment Lady*

    Drug screens are essential in my line of work. I don’t need a guy who is high on anything operating a machine that could kill him or a blow up my plant.

  54. Rewe*

    Every non-temp job (mainly office jobs) I’ve ever had has had a medical examination. I’ve never really questioned it since it is the norm where I am. I think the law states that you need to have one within 3 months, but in light jobs such as office it is not mandatory, but most places do it. Manager cannot access the information. All they get is “suitable health for job”. Otherwise they take bloodworks and explain the results, asks questions about your health habits and take family history like in any doctors appointment. Insanity is very innapropriate way to ask about mental health. They also asses the need of assistive aids in order to do the job. They also can suggest visiting a physio or psychologist if needed. They also use the results to see if there are changes in the regular check ups so they can monotor health in general and see if work/workplace effects it. All this being said, if it is not the norm then springing it on without mention is totally unfair.

    I think it’s always problematic with support services since they don’t usually have the same needs as the main functions but policies are made to the main function. Like when operating heavy machines there needs to be certain safety rules in palce. My ex worked in a powerplan and they had a breathalyzer every morning eventhough he was an engineer there and not directly operating anything. I currently work in a hospital and alot of the policies are aimed at people in patient care but they are not really applicable to us office people and it can be frustrating trying to navigate that.

  55. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    Ugh, physicals… My industry is super inconsistent with them, some hate them with burning passion, some make them mandatory. A hospital I interviewed at went too far and tested me for HIV without my consent! I lost my cool when I found the item in my results. I couldn’t complain since I didn’t have a copy of the consent, though.

  56. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’ve been in manufacturing my entire career and this is not the norm. So don’t let anyone feed you a line it’s a “manufacturing thing”.

    Office and factory/shop are always very much differently ran.

    This sounds like they’re just too lazy to have office vs factory procedures. That physical is for you to do a labor job not anything in the office and massively overstepping.

  57. TK*

    My drug test horror story… I had just been offered my very first internship, as a 20-year-old. They required the type of drug test where your hair is clipped. At the medical office, I turned the back of my head towards the lady who would clip my hair, expecting her to lift it up and cut a few strands from somewhere hidden on the back.

    Instead, she lifted up a 1inch chunk of hair from the CROWN of my head and cut it there! It was so hard to hide for the next 6 months, because as the hair grew, it was so short that it stood straight up, like a spiky style. Lots of high ponytails and side parts.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yikes! I only ever had one of those done, and the woman doing it literally cut ONE hair, maybe two or three each from a different spot. Definitely from somewhere hidden on the back of my head! Your lady was ridiculous!

  58. Librarianne*

    I was once a substitute teacher in a rural Kentucky county. At the pre-employment health screening, they literally did an STD test. I couldn’t believe it. If I was giving students an STD, we had a bigger problem on our hands than my health. But it was on there, in the early 2000s.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      In the home country, back when I was a college student (1980s) Anyone working with children had to get an STD test. I worked as a counselor at a math camp during two of my summers in college, and so was required to go get one. Heard the same from my friends who worked at schools and daycare centers. Somehow none of us ever thought to question the practice or to ask what it was for. Wow, I’d forgotten all about it, until I saw your comment!

      1. Librarianne*

        I feel like this is nothing more than an attempt at being the morality police. Since, again, if you’re passing on an STD to kids, there’s a bigger problem than the disease. It seems like it’s just designed to weed out anyone who they deem as too immoral to have a job with children.

  59. addiez*

    I used to fundraise for a foodbank, which had a warehouse. We also had those funny policies and ways that warehouse culture affected all of us. For example, we had a lunchroom and it was STANDARD for everyone to *take lunch* for half an hour, even though we were salaried. My funniest experience was realizing I needed steel-toed shoes since I occasionally helped with food drives.

    Reason I came here though is to say that it sounds like they haven’t differentiated their onboarding. We didn’t have physicals, but if they had done it for the warehouse, they would’ve done it for me. It serves to not ‘separate’ the office folks from the warehouse folks more than they already are, but it certainly feels weird.

  60. Professional Straphanger*

    I had a job where passing the (yearly) physical was a condition of employment, and it was quite stringent – it included a maximum BMI and certain conditions were disqualifying. There were also mandatory vaccinations for things most people never have to worry about. I served on several interview panels while I was there and we always told people about the medical requirements even before we got into the interview because hiring is costly and time consuming, and because honesty and full disclosure are the best policy. We actually did have a few people bow out because of the requirement. With my background, I would find this physical weird (“insanity?”) but not overly invasive.

    1. Rockin Takin*

      My last job workers could not wear any perfume, makeup, nail polish, hair products, etc. and usually people were fine with that.

      My current job men must be clean shaven, and I’ve had so many applicants bow out because they don’t want to shave their beard. At least they are honest, haha.

      1. Professional Straphanger*

        Is the market that good that people can pass up a job just to keep their facial hair? I’m not a dude, so unless one is a model for beard grooming products on the weekends that seems like a really silly reason to pass on a job.

  61. Annik*

    I had an interview with the international relations organization for Admin position. I was very surprised when they said that there would be some “medical check-up” if they extend an offer. There is nothing in a job description that could explain why they need it.

  62. Sharikacat*

    To over-simplify Alison’s answer: it’s just legal enough that it probably isn’t the hill you want to die on over an otherwise okay job.

  63. megaboo*

    I had to take a physical and hearing test (random, I know) to be a librarian. I really wanted to work for where I’m working, so I’m okay with it.

  64. Jdc*

    Wow. I’ve had a physical twice both for health care jobs only. And even so they just are making sure you aren’t about to kill their patients. They mainly want to make sure you don’t have TB. It’s not even close to a full physical just a half arsed one where they make sure you aren’t hacking up a lung on them. No real medical history asked. This is bonkers and no way I’d do it.

  65. NCKat*

    Many many years ago, when I started working for my company, they offered yearly physicals to managers that were paid for by the company, and the utilization rate was quite high. Our insurance did not pay for physical exams for any participant, so as you can imagine, it was a coveted perk. However as the company went to insurance plans that placed focus on prevention, there was less interest in the company-paid physicals and it eventually went away.

    When I was first hired, I had to go to a local medical office in one of our plants and have a physical exam and a drug test. It was just the basics but that, too went away about 15 years later. They now have biometric screenings.

  66. Lord Gouldian Finch*

    I wonder if this company self-insures? That could explain (slightly) why the company itself was getting the results. Still seems like an incredible over-reach though.

  67. Anon former lawyer*

    I thought employers can make employees take a physical exams as is part of workplace wellness programs? If my understanding is accurate OP should inquire into whether this is a regular practice/requirement.

  68. Galahad*

    On a site where the majority of employees are manufacturing workers, having everyone complete the same physical is important because:
    1) Lots of switchover between clerks in office and clerks on the shop floor / shipping. (Job change, fill in for sick time, union strike). So much easier to have 100% checked out at the start.

    2) Helps to eliminate the “us versus them” work attitudes between the office and production. THIS IS HUGE. Are office employees and managers “too good” to take a physical that everyone pretty much does not like doing but has to anyway?

      1. Elsajeni*

        I think there’s a big difference between “some people are too good to be subject to taking a physical” and “taking a physical and having its results sent to your work is invasive enough that it should only be required when it’s actually necessary and relevant to your work.”

    1. Stella*

      For me it isn’t a too good for it thing. I just think this sort of thing should be on a need to know basis and they should be getting only what is actually going to be relevant and people should be told what is going to happen and who is going to get what information. Discrimination based on disabilities doesn’t magically stop when you have been hired or gotten a conditional offer. So frankly I think the production medical exams are something that should be done very carefully. No one needs to be worried that they will get worse work assignments because their manager found out they take antidepressants even though their depression is well managed and doesn’t affect their job. It’s not that I think I’m too good for it. I just think people should be allowed to have some privacy given that employers control your ability to make an income and get health insurance. If there is a reason to have an exam for people not on the floor, fine, but give people a heads up and try to anticipate concerns about discrimination or past trauma a little bit.

    2. Professional Straphanger*

      Also it serves as a baseline in case you get a work related injury. Say you work in the office mostly but spend some time on the production floor. One day you’re on the floor and something happens that negatively impacts your hearing. If you had an audiogram as part of your pre employment physical, now you have data from before the incident that you can compare to see if any damage has been done.

  69. Scarlet*

    OK I have to strongly disagree with Alison’s take on this one. My company is in manufacturing and we do pre-employment physical screenings. We will not hire people if they don’t pass.

    For example, some positions you have to be able to lift 50lbs consistently. Others, especially inspection-based ones, you have to have a certain vision (or wear glasses/contacts that bring you up to it).

    It’s not outdated, it’s safety. We’re not looking to unnecessarily disqualify people- if people can’t perform the duties of the job and we put them in that role, they could injure themselves (and that’s a worker’s comp claim). Sorry – some places do this for good reason and it’s not illegal.

    1. Scarlet*

      Sorry also just want to add that we have a medical team of RNs and LPNs that handle the whole process. No one (even HR) has access to anyone’s medical records/history or even the results of the exam. If people fail, the medical team works directly with the candidate to resolve – no one else knows any confidential information.

      1. Blueberry*

        Including pelvic exams, as various commenters have mentioned, or questions about “insanity” as the OP mentioned, though? Making certain people can do a job is one thing, invasiveness another.

  70. MizA*

    This is super interesting… I work in Canadian healthcare, and have never been asked to take a physical exam. I do need to prove vaccination status, but nothing as invasive as a physical. Speaking to friends in other occupations, including manufacturing, construction and tech, the only time employers have asked for physicals is after someone’s been injured, to follow up on compensation. Asking for a physical seems really weird, and like a big ol’ overstep.

  71. Raquel*

    I’m a case manager in New Business for life insurance (I manage applications throughout the underwriting process when people apply for a fully underwritten life insurance policy–NOT a group policy). These questions sound identical to what would be found on what’s called a paramedical exam. These exams involve recording of the client’s vitals, build (height/weight), blood pressure, etc on what’s called a lab ticket. That ticket would also contain a barcode that the third party life insurance company would then use to retrieve your blood & urine test results from the lab. The other questions being asked are in line with what insurance carriers typically ask during a paramed–family history is an important part of the approval process for some carriers. (If an immediate family member was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, for example, you may not qualify for as good of a rating [premium] as you would without that family history.) If the examiner did word this as family history of “insanity,” that probably was inaccurate (or maybe the OP is relaying it slightly incorrectly). I would encourage the OP to ask for a copy of what she signed during the offer process as she may very well have signed a third party HIPAA authorization which permits the life insurance carrier to collect and assess her exam data.

  72. Mahkara*

    I’d argue this is pretty common in manufacturing for all employees. (At the least, I’ve had to have a pre-employment physical before any job I’ve worked in that’s been in manufacturing.)

    For people who are working in the plant, I think it’s a way of being able to state the pre-existing conditions weren’t *caused* by working in the plant. (e.g. your hearing was already shot, you can’t blame that on insufficient hearing protection) For everyone else, it’s a way of seeming “fair”…e.g. they make everyone get a physical, not just the guys who are working on the line.

    Is it silly? IDK. I think it makes a moderate amount of sense considering the liabilities the company is potentially facing. (The STD and birth control questions are kind of nonsense, but they’re also often asked as part of a normal physical, so…)

    1. Myra*

      Yeah at a job I had to get a doctor’s note that said I could work because I was taking Lithium and anti-depressants. It seems weird, but I guess it’s a liability thing since those are my crazy pills. ;)

  73. LJay*

    It kind of sounds to me like this company is incompetent and treats all of its employees the same way no matter what.

    A physical examination could make sense for someone who is operating heavy machinery. If they take medication that can induce drowsiness that would be an obvious problem. Or if they have a seizure or a heart attack or stroke and fall into the machinery and die that could also be a problem they could be seeking to mitigate.

    But that doesn’t mean that they need to (or should) have the same policy on the books for everyone.

    Same with the attendance policies, etc. Just because people in one job category need to have strict coverage, doesn’t mean that that same policy needs to be held to other employees. (And the opposite, just because you give people in other job roles a lot of freedom in coming and going doesn’t mean that you need to do the same for a job that truly does require strict coverage like a receptionist or phone support).

    And if they do have that policy they should have it on the books for everyone.

    If it weren’t for the attendance stuff I would assume that maybe a mistake had been made with your paperwork. My employer has employees bound by DOT regulations for drug tests, and those that are not. They do a preemployement drug test for everyone, but I guess there are differences in the tests. When I started, I was accidentally set up to do a DOT drug test even though I am in a non-DOT position. The issue was discovered and I was directed to come back and do the right test. And it didn’t really reflect anything on the company except that someone in HR checked the wrong box on a form one day because they’re a human being.

    But with the policies described at this workplace it seems a bit more suspect.

    I would definitely ask about it and see what the response is. If they’re immediately apologetic and explain that it was a mistake that would be one thing. If they’re just like “whoops, forgot to warn ya about that,” I’d be very concerned.

  74. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    OP, the good news is that you cannot answer the “insanity” question in the affirmative, regardless of any family history of mental illness. Insanity is not a diagnosis in the DSM-5. It is used as a legal term (insanity is defined by the state, and usually involves questions of whether you know right from wrong and have the ability to understand the consequences of your actions), but that is not a medical diagnosis. The fact that a medical office would actually have a form with that question concerns me. It makes me wonder whether this medical professional is competent. Even if the form was provided by the company, if I were a medical professional filling it out, I would cross through the question and contact the company to let them know this. If nothing else about the exam had alarmed you, that question alone was reason to think there is something off about the situation.

  75. Myra*

    OP, no offense, but is this your first professional job? I’ve had places require physicals and drug screens. I live in Houston and it doesn’t always happen, but sometimes, yes. In Austin everyone required drug screens.

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