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EEOC Cracking Down on Drug Bias

In the wake of rising concern over prescription drug abuse, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is aggressively prosecuting employers who discriminate against employees who take prescription drugs for valid medical conditions.

“Employers should take precautions before implementing blanket drug-testing policies that fail to account for legal use of prescription drugs,” says Jennifer L. Mora, an attorney with the law firm of Littler Mendelson.

In one recent case EEOC filed suit against an employer who spurned an applicant after a positive drug test, although she supplied documents showing her pain medication was legally prescribed for a back and neck injury.

In another case a regional medical center was sued by EEOC because it terminated a physician after learning about his use of narcotic drugs to treat his own chronic pain.

The physician gave the medical center a letter from his doctor stating he was undergoing treatment for a chronic pain, which required the pain medication as well as spinal injections.

“Employers have an obligation to conduct individualized assessments when they have a concern about an employee’s ability to safely perform his or her job duties,” the commission says.

“EEOC will continue to hold employers accountable when they summarily dismiss employees based on unsubstantiated fears about a perceived disability,” it stresses.

Mora reminds employers that while you can legally conduct drug testing, “employers should avoid making adverse decisions based on misperceptions or a lack of information about the effect of prescription drug use on the employees’ ability to perform their job duties.”

She also says these cases demonstrate the importance of ensuring that certain policies and practices – including requring employees report their prescription drug use – be limited to those who who are working in safety-sensitive positions.

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