Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Substances abusers continue to confound employers

The EEOC announced that it has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a job applicant who lost his position after a pre-employment drug screen revealed methadone in his system:

According to the EEOC’s complaint, Craig Burns is a recovering drug addict who has been enrolled in a methadone treatment program since 2004. In January 2010, United Insurance offered Burns a position as an insurance agent in its Raleigh office, conditioned upon Burns’ passing a drug test. After Burns’ drug test showed the presence of methadone in his system, Burns submitted a letter to United Insurance from his treatment provider explaining that he was participating in supervised methadone treatment program and taking legally prescribed medication as part of the treatment. Upon receiving this information, United Insurance notified Burns that he was not eligible for hire and withdrew its offer of employment.

When dealing with addicts, the ADA requires employer to balance a fine line between not wanting substance abusers in the workplace and the need to accommodate addiction as a disability. This balance comes from the ADA’s lack of protection for current drug and alcohol abuse, but its ongoing protection of addiction as a disability. From the EEOC:

The ADA may protect a “qualified” alcoholic who can meet the definition of “disability.” The ADA does not protect an individual who currently engages in the illegal use of drugs, but may protect a recovered drug addict who is no longer engaging in the illegal use of drugs, who can meet the other requirements of the definition of “disability,” and who is “qualified.”

Even without these legal complications, dealing with employees who have a substance problem is never easy. Because of the layer of complexity added by the ADA, you should not tread in these waters without guidance from employment counsel.