Employer to pay $1.8M for firing prescription drug user
- A federal district court has ordered an employer to pay $1.8 million for firing a prescription drug user after failing a drug test, Littler Mendelson reports.
- The employer's “fitness for duty” policy prohibits employees from working under the influence of drugs or alcohol and makes clear that if they are suspected of doing so, they may be subject to a drug test. After suspecting an employee with migraines of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) abuse, it required her to submit to a drug test.
- The employee, who did not work in a safety-sensitive position, tested positive for opioids. Her doctor explained that she was receiving injections to control her migraines and that they did not impair her work, but the employer fired her anyway. Instead, it should have engaged in the Americans with Disabilities Act's interactive process of looking for a reasonable accommodation, the court said.
The current opioid-addiction epidemic, legalization of marijuana and rise in the use of cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine certainly present challenges for employers. Employers might need to train managers in recognizing behaviors that signal the possibility of drug addiction, such as excessive absenteeism, chronic lateness or excessive anxiety.
And while workplaces are generally free to prohibit illegal drug use at work, they often must attempt to accommodate workers with disabilities to need to use prescription drugs. When an employee is properly using a prescription, federal law requires that the employer at least try to accommodate that use.
When engaging in that process, businesses are free to conclude that a requested accommodation poses a direct threat to safety or an undue hardship on the business, but employers should note that those are high burdens to meet.