Workers suffering from addiction are protected under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, unless they’re currently using drugs illegally—a legal wrinkle that creates uncertainty for employers and employees in the midst of a national opioid epidemic. Medication-assisted treatment is considered to be the most effective option for breaking opioid addiction while reducing withdrawal symptoms, said Antonette Sewell, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Atlanta office. The treatment itself sometimes prompts suspicions from employers, based on the myth that the patient is only replacing one addiction with another. But firing a worker who’s undergoing treatment or refusing to grant them reasonable leave time—such as for workers who need to visit a methadone clinic daily—could be considered disability discrimination under the ADA.
When taken according to a doctor’s orders, “these medical assisted treatments do not result in the euphoria or high that’s produced from using opioids, and they can be safely administered for months or years,” Sewell said. Although the medications used in treatment would likely show up on a drug test administered by the employer, using these medications as prescribed by a doctor doesn’t void a worker’s ADA protections in the way current illegal drug use would, she added.
Source: Bloomberg Law