Employers: Use caution when dealing with prescription drug users

Summary and Analysis

The latest battlefield in the war with the opioid epidemic may be the commercial front. Businesses, big and small, are being sued for what was once considered usual practices. Activities including blanket drug testing, questioning employees about the prescription medications they take, as well as changing a company's policy that requires employees to disclose prescription medication use, these are now all questionable practices unless they are framed by the new rules.

Because of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and new policies from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), there are new hoops that  companies must jump through when dealing with new hires or employees that are currently on opioids, or any prescribed medication. Big companies such as Volvo as well as hospitals and mom and pop business have been sued for violating how they interact with employees who are on prescribed medication, even if it is a controlled substance such as an opioid, like Suboxone.

Businesses must now bear the additional costs of hiring lawyers to defend themselves against claims of this new type of discrimination. With millions of addicts in the United States there's an ever increasing danger existing in the workplace of mishaps because of an employee working while on a controlled substance. The EEOC states that it "will continue to hold employers accountable when they summarily dismiss employees based on unsubstantiated fears about a perceived disability." This view has cost businesses tens of thousands of dollars per employee and when multiplied by the spike in addicts taking prescribed opioids now entering the workforce, the cost of doing business has inherited a new, expensive twist.

Excerpted from EmployerLINC

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Employers often have policies that require applicants or employees to disclose the lawful use of prescription drugs that could impair job performance or potentially pose a safety concern. If you’re one of those employers, you should be aware that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has taken the position that such policies may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

What’s an employer to do instead? Make an individual assessment of each applicant or employee. Consider the job duties and the type of prescription medication an employee is using as part of the interactive process required by the ADA when determining whether there are measures that could be taken to accommodate restrictions or limitations placed on an employee’s activities. Under the ADA, employers are required to provide a reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with a disability unless doing so would pose an undue hardship or a direct threat to the safety of the employee or others. This includes accommodations addressing an employee’s use of prescription medication.