Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Recent decision about a positive drug test has a lot to say about the future of medical marijuana and employer drug testing

Richard Turner worked as a crane operator for Phillips 66. The company’s substance abuse policy allowed for random and post-accident drug testing for “Cannabinoids, Cocaine, Opiates, Phencyclidine (PCP) and Amphetamines,” and mandated termination for any positive test.

On April 24, 2017, Turner was selected for a random drug test, and provided a urine sample. Three days later he was involved in a workplace accident and was again tested.

The following day, Phillips 66 learned that Turner’s April 24 sample tested positive for amphetamines. As a result, the company fired him.

According to a letter Turner later provided from his physician, Turner had not been prescribed amphetamines, but had taken over-the-counter medications, including Sudafed, for unspecified “medical conditions.” The April 27 sample, and the sample from a retest Turner himself took, both tested negative. The company’s retest of the April 24 sample, however, again tested positive for amphetamines.

In Turner’s subsequent disability discrimination case challenging his termination, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Phillips 66 did not violate the ADA via its drug testing.

Under the ADA, an employer “shall not require a medical examination and shall not make inquiries of an employee as to whether such employee is an individual with a disability or as to the nature or severity of the disability, unless such examination or inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.” Turner argued that Phillips 66’s drug screen violated this rule because it revealed the potential use of a legally prescribed medication. The 10th Circuit disagreed:

The EEOC has indicated a drug test does not become a medical examination simply because “the results reveal information about an individual’s medical condition beyond whether the individual is currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs,” such as “the presence of a controlled substance that has been lawfully prescribed for a particular medical condition, this information is to be treated as a confidential medical record.” A test for the illegal use of drugs does not necessarily become a medical examination simply because it reveals the potential legal use of drugs.

Pay careful attention to that last sentence:

A test for the illegal use of drugs does not necessarily become a medical examination simply because it reveals the potential legal use of drugs

Assume for a second that Turner tested positive for legally prescribed medical marijuana instead of amphetamines. Would this result be any different? Marijuana remains federally illegal. If an employer drug tests for marijuana, according to Turner v. Phillips 66, a positive test does not become an unlawful medical exam in violation of ADA merely because it could cause the employee to reveal medical information to justify the positive test.

In other words, drug tests remain 100% legal, whether or not they cause an employee to reveal medical information in response to the drug screen.

A great result for employers as we continue to figure out the difficult intersection between the lawful use of impairing drugs and the ADA.

* Photo by ProjectManhattan [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons