June 29, 2017

EEOC says drug-testing policy violates ADA.

Drug Policy Disability Discrimination Training

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently put the brakes on two car companies in Arizona for withdrawing a job offer to a woman after a pre-employment drug test revealed she took a legally prescribed drug to treat a disability.  

As a result, the companies agreed to pay $45,000 and take other steps to settle the disability discrimination lawsuit alleging their hiring practices violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA prohibits employers from making employment decisions based on an individual’s disability or need for reasonable accommodation. Under the ADA, employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees’ and applicants’ disabilities, unless doing so poses a difficult or costly hardship.

The lawsuit charged that after the applicant was extended a job offer to work as a salesperson at a dealership, the company withdrew the offer the next day when a pre-employment drug test came back positive. The EEOC also alleged the auto dealer refused to hire similar applicants who needed a reasonable accommodation of the company’s drug testing policy. The company’s policy was to refuse to hire any applicant who tested positive for substances on a list maintained by the companies.

According to the EEOC, the applicant explained that the drug was legally prescribed to treat a disability and it would not affect her job performance. She also offered to provide proof that the substance was legally prescribed and expressed a willingness to try a different medication. However, the companies refused her offer and refused to hire her, the EEOC said.

In addition to paying $45,000 to the job applicant, the companies also agreed to:

  • Not discriminate in the future against applicants with disabilities
  • Not administer any drug test to a job applicant prior to a conditional job offer
  • Review their employment discrimination policies
  • Conduct ADA training for managers, supervisors and human resources personnel

Drug test results: don’t jump to conclusions
“While drug testing is permitted in some contexts, it cannot be used to discriminate against people with disabilities,” said EEOC Phoenix Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill. “Communicating with job applicants about drug test results before jumping to wrong conclusions is an important part of the interactive process that is required under federal law.”

EEOC Phoenix District Director Elizabeth Cadle added, “Blanket exclusion policies based on drug test results harm job applicants and employers. The ADA requires a case-by-case evaluation of applicants with disabilities to make sure employers assess these applicants on their merits.”

Traliant Insight

The use of prescription drugs and medications in the workplace is both pervasive and complicated. As this case shows, having a rigid drug-use policy that doesn’t take into account lawful prescription drug use may adversely impact qualified applicants, discriminate against individuals with disabilities and violate their protections under the ADA.