Tuesday, October 4, 2016

EEOC lawsuit highlights risk of dealing with prescription medications in the workplace

There is no doubt that prescription-pain-medication abuse is a rampant problem in America. Indeed, this week the State of Ohio even went so far as to limit the ability of an injured worker to receive reimbursements for pain meds from the state workers’ compensation fund.

So, what then does one make of this story from Employment Law 360, describing a recent lawsuit the EEOC filed against Georgia medical practice?
Alunda Hunt was fired from his job at Spaulding Regional Medical Center shortly after revealing to his employers that he was being treated with prescribed narcotics and spinal injections for a chronic medical condition, despite his ability to perform his job duties, according to the EEOC’s complaint. …

According to the complaint, Hunt, who suffers from an impairment that limits his neurological and musculoskeletal systems, was hired to treat acutely ill patients for Georgia Hospitalists Group in July 2013. The following month, as part of the credential verification process, Hunt supplied a doctor’s note explaining he was being treated for chronic pain with a combination of prescribed narcotics and back injections, the complaint states. When Hunt refused to resign, the company fired him, the EEOC said. … 
What does it appear this employer may have done wrong to catch the EEOC’s ire? Think back to my past from last month discussing the ADA and prescription meds. What steps must an employer take to avoid an ADA claim after learning that an employee is taking a prescription drug that may affect job performance?
After an employer learns that an employee is taking a prescription drug that may affect job performance, it should request a medical certification regarding the effect of the medication on the ability safely to perform essential job functions. That certification will enable the employer to engage the employee in the interactive process and making the individualized determination of whether a reasonable accommodation is even possible.
In its lawsuit, the EEOC alleges that Hunt supplied a doctor’s note explaining that he was being treated for chronic pain with a prescribed narcotic, and further explaining that he was subject to urine tests and monitoring via the Georgia Board of Pharmacy to ensure compliance with his treatment plan. The employer, however, allegedly assumed that the medication rendered him unable to meet his job requirements. It failed to engage in the interactive process with this employee to determine whether he could perform the essential functions of his job with, or without, reasonable accommodation based on the medical certification.

Beware the same error in your workplace. The ADA is all about engaging in conversations and avoiding assumptions. When dealing with an employee’s medications, silence on an employer’s part equals liability. When an employee presents for duty with a prescription medication, ask, certify, verify, and, if possible, accommodate. If you cannot make a reasonable accommodation after engaging the employee, then, and only then, are you free to terminate.