Safety and OSHA News

Company tested all workers for legal drugs: $750K settlement

With all the reports about increasing use of painkillers, such as opioids, it’s no wonder some companies are testing employees for the legal substances for safety reasons. But, as this case shows, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that.

Dura Automotive Systems tested all of its Lawrenceburg, TN, plant employees for seven legal medications.

The Equal employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act against the company. The EEOC alleged that Dura:

  • required employees who tested positive for legally prescribed medications to disclose the medical conditions for which they were taking the meds
  • made it a condition of employment that the employees stop taking their prescribed meds without any evidence the drugs were affecting the workers’ job performance
  • suspended employees until they stopped taking their prescribed meds
  • fired those who were unable to perform their job duties without taking the meds, and
  • disclosed the identities of those who tested positive to its entire work force.

Now, Dura has entered a $750,000 settlement with the EEOC under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Dura added certain legal drugs, including painkillers such as hydrocodone, to its drug testing program because of concerns that employees taking the meds posed safety hazards.

The EEOC said an employer must have a reasonable belief an employee is unable to do a job or poses a threat to terminate someone using a prescription drug.

Why the concern?

Why are companies even wandering into this potential legal land mine?

A new Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) study shows 1 in 12 injured workers who started using opioids are still using them 3 to 6 months later.

The report, Longer-Term Use of Opioids, says few doctors are following recommended treatment guidelines to prevent extended use. For example:

  • Drug testing was used less frequently than recommended by medical treatment guidelines. An average of only 24% received drug testing.
  • Use of psychological evaluation and treatment services was also low.

So, given the WCRI study and Dura’s settlement with the EEOC, what are companies to do?

Testing for legal drugs is OK with the EEOC if it’s job-related and justified by business necessity, such as for safety reasons. If an employee tests positive for a prescription drug, you can’t ask them why they’re taking it. And the only situation in which you can ask an employee to stop taking a prescribed med is when it affects the worker’s ability to do his/her job.

You can share any experiences your company has had with testing for legal drugs in the comments box below.

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  1. The company should have something in their policy that states that you have to be medically qualified to perform a job. Or they should state something in the policy that anyone taking a legal medication that is on the forbidden list of substances for a particular job function, will be transferred or otherwise removed from that position until they are no longer taking said medication.

  2. sheralroh says:

    Aida: that is a very resonable thing to add into a company’s policy. My guys use cranes and build tanks and it’s scary to think they are taking opiates.
    BTW: I used to know an Aida from San Jose, California. I think she moved to Las Vegas though.

  3. I worked at a company where we encouraged everyone who needed to take something with opiates in it, i.e., Tylenol 3 with Codeine, or Codeine-infused cough syrup, to please either stay home while they’re loopy from the medication, and if they are okay to come to work, to voluntarily do light duty that day.

    I wish I would have lived in San Jose or Las Vegas, but I’m a Louisianan living in Texas.

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