An Iowa employee got fired for doing drugs. But she’ll be able to buy a lot more drugs with the $40,000 windfall the court ordered her employer to pay her as a result.
The company didn’t have a random drug-testing policy. Its zero-tolerance policy called for testing only if an employee had an accident.
The problem for the company: Though the employee ended up being treated for a work-related injury, there had been no accident, said the court.
In other words, it didn’t matter that the employee was taking drugs. What mattered was how the company came to find out.
It all began a year earlier. The employee had been diagnosed with a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome. After some conservative treatment, she improved and got back to work. The company even modified some of her job duties to help ease her symptoms.
Shortly after that, the company implemented its new policy: Any employee who had an accident requiring medical treatment would be tested. If you failed, you were gone.
When the employee’s carpal tunnel began acting up again, her doctor referred her to an orthopedist. When she got in to see him – a couple of weeks later – she was told she needed to be drug-tested.
The test came back positive for cocaine and she was fired.
She might have been surprised by the test, but she wasn’t surprised when she failed. She even turned down her right to be retested. No point, she said: It’ll turn up positive again.
Nonetheless, she sued, arguing that the company was out of line,
And she won.
The court agreed that the company had overstepped by testing her in the first place. Its policy called for testing if an employee had an accident. She had a cumulative trauma injury. That’s different, it said.
The company countered with testimony that cocaine can cause people to work faster, and in so doing aggravate previous injuries.
But the court didn’t buy it. Even if this involved an accident and a new injury – which was questionable – by the time she took the test, weeks had passed. So there was no way to connect drugs to any accident, it said.
The bottom line, according to the court: She wouldn’t have been fired if she hadn’t been tested. And based on your policy, she never should have been tested in the first place. So get out your checkbook and write her a check for back pay, attorney fees and court costs.
Cite: Skipton v. S& J Tube, Inc.