Here are some scenarios that we hear about frequently: “I know my employee is taking prescription pain medication (after his surgery/because of a rumor I’ve heard/because he told me he was). I’m concerned about his performance/attendance/ability to drive a company vehicle or operate machinery”. This scenario leads to these questions: “Can we test him for prescription drugs?” “Can we require him to stop taking prescription meds that interfere with his job or present a threat to the company or its employees?” “Can we terminate him for poor performance/attendance, even though we know that it is a result of his medication?”
This is a really sticky area of the law. There is an employer movement towards testing for certain prescription drugs that have workplace safety implications (painkiller narcotics being the primary example), most notably amongst employers with high rates of on-the-job injuries. EEOC v. Dura Automotive Systems, an important case on this topic, was settled in September 2012, with Dura Automotive agreeing to pay $750,000 as a penalty for its blanket testing and termination of auto workers taking certain prescription medicines. The outcome indicates, however, that prescription drug testing is permitted in limited circumstances. Across-the-board testing for prescription drugs is not permitted, but testing for certain prescription drugs is permitted in positions where those drugs may impact safety. Even for safety-sensitive positions, employers should not have blanket rules prohibiting employees from using certain prescription medications (even for safety reasons). Each individual’s circumstances and performance should be assessed in light of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and employers should avoid making assumptions about any prescription medication.
Talk to an employment lawyer before implementing a substance abuse policy or testing program which involves prescription drugs, and before taking any employment action involving a prescription drug issue. With careful handling, you can address legitimate safety and performance issues while avoiding the fate of Dura Automotive.
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Eadaoin Waller is a Georgia attorney, focusing her practice in corporate law.
Her firm, Andersen, Tate & Carr, P.C., works with all manner of clients in business and personal matters, providing “big firm” sophistication with suburban law firm attention and service.
Copyright © 2013 Eadaoin Waller & Andersen, Tate & Carr, P.C.