Can a Company Refuse to Hire a Recovering Drug Addict?
What the Americans with Disabilities Act says about drug addiction
There’s no lawful reason a company would ever be required to hire
someone who claims to be currently addicted to drugs.
But what if a job applicant states that he or she is being treated for
a past drug addiction? Can the company still refuse to hire the person?
A lawsuit by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brings
this question into sharp focus.
Let’s take a look at what allegedly happened in this case and then
discuss how drug addiction is handled under the Americans with Disabilities
A Red Flag Prescription
The EEOC is currently suing an employer for rescinding a job offer it made
to a recovering drug addict.
It claims that Volvo Group North America made a conditional job offer to
Michael Files for an hourly manufacturing position. During the pre-employment
physical, Files disclosed that he was taking suboxone, a prescription
narcotic drug used to treat heroin addiction. He explained that he hadn’t
used any illegal drugs since 2010.
However, the company nurse explained that the employer viewed suboxone
as more powerful than heroin.
Files arrived to start work several days later, but was told that the company
was unable to hire him because of his suboxone use.
Files complained to the EEOC, which is now suing on his behalf.
The EEOC claims that the company violated the ADA by refusing to hire a
qualified applicant who is participating in a medically supervised drug
For more information, see
this press release from the EEOC.
What the Law Says
The ADA does not provide protection for current users of illegal substances.
Therefore, if Files had admitted to current drug use, the company would’ve
generally been within its rights to rescind the job offer.
However, people with past histories of drug abuse may be covered by the ADA.
First, it’s important to know that ADA coverage is determined on
a case-by-case basis. That is, there is no list of conditions that are
or are not covered. A person may generally qualify for ADA protection
if he or she meets certain criteria, including being substantially limited
in a major life activity because of a medical condition.
Because recovering drug addicts may require ongoing treatment to combat
their addictions, they may be eligible for ADA protection.
ADA protection prohibits employers from discriminating against employees
and prospective employees because of their disabilities.
That means, in this case, if Files is found to be eligible for ADA coverage,
the company may have violated the law by refusing to hire him because
of his ongoing treatment for drug addiction.
But keep in mind that companies may be able to refuse employment on other
grounds. For example, if certain prescription drugs present safety issues,
employers may be within their rights to refuse employment.
In this case, however, the company did not cite a safety issue. Now it
will be up to the courts to decide if the company violated federal disability laws.
Call Us for a Consultation Now
As this case shows, issues surrounding disabilities and work are often
extremely complicated. If you believe you have been discriminated against
because of a disability, it’s a good idea to speak to an employment
law attorney about your rights.
Call us today to discuss your unique situation.