Can Employers Test For Prescription Drugs?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the United States is responsible for consuming 75% of the world’s prescription drugs. As an employer, you are probably concerned about drug use in the workplace. And for good reason, due to the amount of Americans on prescription drugs and the fact that a study has revealed that 20% of Americans age 12 and older have used prescription drugs non-medically at least once in their lives. So what can you do to ensure prescription drugs do not affect your business, employees, and customers negatively? Do you have rights in regards to what you can screen in a drug test to prevent any risk of prescription drug abuse? Learn more here about what you are allowed to screen for in employee drug tests.

Prescription Drugs at Work

The incidence of employees testing positive for prescription opiates has drastically increased over the past few years. According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescription opioids are one of the most addictive drugs in the country, and overdoses from prescription opioids cause more deaths than all other drugs combined, including illegal drugs. But, unlike illegal drugs like marijuana and hallucinogens, employers in the U.S. are presented with many challenges when wanting to test effectively for prescription medications. With illegal drugs, if they were to show up in a drug test, it would automatically call for an offense and result in either termination or the employment of a drug-free program of a current employee, or the disqualification of a job applicant.

The Protection for Prescription Drugs

For many employees on prescription drugs, they are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and are protected partially, if not completely, from employers wanting to question their prescription drug use, with the only exception being if an employer has reasonable suspicion that the employee’s behavior is indicative of that of prescription drug abuse, is compromising the safety and efficiency of a workplace, is unable to perform job duties, and risks the safety of their customers. Employees are also protected by being able to claim privacy over their health records and not agree to share information regarding prescription drug use to their employer.

An example of where an employee would be protected against discrimination and unlawful termination of employment due to prescription drug use would be if an employer was suspicious of drug use having a part in a recent accident. The employer then bans certain drugs, including common prescription drugs, and requires all employees to undergo drug testing. When an employee tests positive for one of the banned drugs, of which is a legal drug they have a prescription for, and they are immediately terminated, the employer may be subject to lawsuits and fines for violating worker’s rights.

While drug testing under reasonable suspicion and state-required random testing is not illegal, employers are not allowed to inquire about worker’s medical records and require drug tests that are not job-related or consistent with the needs of the workplace.

Exceptions for Prescription Drug Testing

While employers need to have reasonable suspicion to drug test an employee in a potentially controversial situation, there are a few exceptions to the rights employers have in regards to employee drug testing. These include any employees working in safety-sensitive positions such as truck drivers, commercial transportation drivers, pilots, limousine chauffeurs, and others, as well as those involved in a post-accident situation. When these two types of situations are the case, employers have more authority to inquire into the medications used by an employee and to issue a drug test. Many companies that are regulated by the FMCSA are allowed to require drivers to report the use of all prescription medications so that employers can have current medical records to review. Many prescription drugs can affect the brain and someone’s behavior and actions the same as illegal substances, and those working in safety-sensitive positions like the transportation industry need to remain drug-free at all times to protect the safety of the public.

When it comes to lawsuits and employee liabilities, it’s important for employers to be very careful when inquiring about employee prescription drug and what their rights are in regards to what they can and cannot require, and when a drug test is appropriate.

For more information about workplace drug testing, and for the services of a reputable drug testing service, contact New Era Drug Testing and learn how you can ensure your workplace remains drug-free.