Opioids in the Workplace

While the United States grapples with staggering opioid abuse throughout the country, companies face a virtual minefield where their legitimate need to maintain a drug-free workplace collides with their employees’ right to use prescription drugs for personal medical conditions. Navigating that minefield is a challenge.

It has long been the rule (and still is the rule) that companies can preclude the presence or use of – or even reporting to work under the influence of – illegal drugs. But most opioid abusers obtain their drugs legally with a doctor’s prescription, and often in response to a legitimate medical condition. Unless the employee poses a direct threat to himself or another as a result of his opioid use, he has the right under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to continue his opioid use even while on the job.

To be clear, the employee still needs to perform. If he can’t, and if the company follows its normal disciplinary processes, he may be shown the door. But the termination is a result of his failure to perform, not because he violated the company’s workplace drug policies.

What’s the takeaway for employers? Don’t rush to judgment if you learn an employee uses opioids. If it interferes with his performance, proceed cautiously and carefully through the disciplinary process. And if you have any questions, call our office at (248) 477-6300.

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