Woman Denied Job Over Prescription Drug Use; Was it Legal?
Company didn’t like results of job candidate’s drug test
Imagine that you’ve applied for a job. After a series of interviews, you’re extended a job offer. However, there’s just one more hurdle before you can start: You have to pass a drug test.
No problem, you think. You’re not a drug user, so you just view the test as a formality.
A few days later you get a call from the company. A manager tells you that they’re rescinding the job offer because your test revealed the presence of a certain drug.
You explain that the drug is a prescription and that you’re using it under your doctor’s orders. The manager tells you that it doesn’t matter. The company’s policy is that it will not hire anyone using certain substances.
The question is, does the company’s policy violate the law?
That’s a question that’s recently been raised by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in a lawsuit it’s pursuing. The case provides some insight into how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may impact hiring.
Drug used for disability
Sara Thorholm was excited to start her new job as a product specialist/salesperson at Bell-Arrow Automotive. However, her job offer was retracted after she failed the pre-employment drug screening.
The drug in question was a prescription Thorholm used to treat a disability under a doctor’s care.
The company refused to consider that explanation. Thorholm offered to use a different medication instead, but the company still refused to hire her.
Thorholm complained to the EEOC, the agency charged with upholding federal anti-discrimination laws. The agency decided to sue on Thorholm’s behalf after several unsuccessful attempts to work with the company to reconcile the situation.
According to the lawsuit, the company is violating the ADA by refusing to hire Thorholm. The EEOC argues that companies may not make employment decisions “based on an individual's disability or need for reasonable accommodation.”
(The case discussed here is EEOC v. Bell Leasing.)
What you need to know about the ADA and drug testing
It’s important to know that the ADA provides protection from discrimination during the hiring process.
For example, companies cannot require job candidates to undergo drug testing until after those individuals have been extended conditional job offers. This provision of the ADA is intended to prohibit companies from discriminating against people who may be taking medications to treat health conditions.
The ADA also requires that each person is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. That is, employers must examine how each person’s unique conditions, abilities, and limitations will correlate to the job in question. Companies are then required to engage in an interactive process with the individual to determine if a reasonable accommodation can be implemented.
In terms of medications, companies may be able to deny employment to someone who poses a legitimate safety risk by taking a certain prescription. Example: a forklift driver who takes a medication that makes him or her drowsy during work hours.
However, companies generally must be able to prove that hiring the person would create an undue hardship (such as a safety risk), before rescinding a job offer. Even then, though, employers generally must attempt to find an accommodation before denying employment.
Questions? We can help
If you believe that your rights under the ADA have been compromised, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney.Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.