Lonza America LLC (Lonza) in Tennessee resolved a lawsuit that was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) accusing it of responding to an employee's two positive drug tests in a manner that violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The EEOC sued the company who operates a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility. The EEOC said Lonza fired the fourteen year employee illegally after testing positive twice for a legally controlled substance. How can this be possible?
The major issue here is whether the employee is illegally using drugs or in recovery. The ADA does not protect employees who are using drugs illegally including prescription medications if they are taking those without a valid prescription. However, in this case, the employee notified his employer he was in treatment for an opioid addiction and had a valid prescription for medication assisted treatment. The EEOC said Lonza forced the employee to go to counseling with a clinical psychologist and would not let him return to work until he stopped taking the prescribed medication. The EEOC said the employers conduct violated the ADA.
To settle this lawsuit, Lonza agreed to pay the employee $150,000 and provide ADA-related training to staff. What is the bottom line? If an employee is a recovering addict who isn't using drugs illegally, they are protected by the ADA.
There is another question that popped in my mind as I found this out. Why did the employee have a positive drug screening? If the medical director at the drug testing lab contacted the employee, they should have been able to verify he had a legitimate prescription. Therefore, they should have marked the drug test as negative. However, if they tried to contact the employee three times with no response, they generally mark the test as non-contact positive.
Here is a link from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), "Know Your Rights: Rights for Individuals on Medication-Assisted Treatment," which is helpful to both employees and employers:
Note: There are some safety-sensitive positions in which the DOT does not allow employees to take certain prescription medications including those used to treat opioid addiction. ADA guidelines must still be followed, but there are different policies in these cases.