School settles allegations it fired teacher for Suboxone use
- A South Carolina preschool has agreed to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit alleging that it fired a teacher for using Suboxone, which was prescribed as part of a supervised medication-assisted treatment program for prior opiate addiction.
- After learning about his Suboxone use, The Foothills Child Development Center, Inc., allegedly fired Leon Dabrowski 30 minutes into his first day as an afterschool teacher. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunitiy Commission (EEOC) sued, alleging that the the employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it failed to conduct an individualized assessment to determine what effect, if any, the Suboxone had on his ability to perform his job duties.
- Foothills agreed to pay Dabrowski $5,000 and amend its drug policy to include a clear and specific exclusion for individuals who use legally-obtained prescription medication in a lawfully-prescribed manner, according to the commission. Foothills also agreed to create a procedure for conducting individualized assessments, provide annual ADA training and report to the EEOC the identities of all applicants who were denied employment and employees who were terminated because of current or past alcohol, drug or substance use.
The current opioid crisis, combined with a serious talent shortage, means employers may soon find themselves dealing with these issues more frequently.
While the ADA doesn't protect employees who are current illegal drug users, it does consider past addiction a disability. This means that employers, as EEOC explained, must conduct an indiviualized assessment and consider whether the employee can perform the essential functions of his or her job.
That protection often arises in hiring and firing claims, like Dabrowski's, but also can require that employers provide accommodations for workers' previous addictions. According to the Job Accommodation Network, this could include unpaid time off to continue treatment, among other things.
Good workplace policies and procedures can go a long way in preparing for such situations, but experts also regularly note that training for supervisors — both those involved in hiring and those who work as front-line managers — is key to preventing discrimination.