The EEOC recently filed a lawsuit against a temporary labor agency because they violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, (ADA) when they refused to hire a recovering addict because of her disability.
According to the charges filed by the EEOC, the applicant (Ms. Cox) has been in a medically supervised rehabilitation program for four years and has not used illegal drugs since enrolling in the program. As part of her rehabilitation program, Ms. Cox uses medically prescribed methadone.
In January of 2015, Ms. Cox applied for an open production labor position with a client of the staffing agency. During the application/interview process, the manager told Ms. Cox that she had enough experience to advance to the next step of the hiring process, which included a pre-employment drug test. Ms. Cox was then given a cup and asked to provide a urine sample.
After giving the sample, Ms. Cox disclosed to the hiring manager that she was in a medically supervised methadone treatment program. The hiring manager took the cup back and said “I’m sure we don’t hire people on methadone, but I will contact my supervisor.” The applicant repeatedly called back informing the hiring manager that she did not have any medical restrictions from performing the labor position. Yet, the company refused to hire Ms. Cox because she used methadone.
In commenting on this case, the EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence stated, “Medically prescribed methadone is a common and safe treatment for people recovering from drug addiction. The Commission will take action if an employer refuses to hire a qualified applicant based on unwarranted or speculative fears or biases about her disability or her medically supervised drug rehabilitation.”
The take-home lesson for employers — if your company uses pre-employment drug testing during the hiring process, an applicant’s medically supervised drug rehabilitation is a protected disability that cannot be the basis for refusing to hire an otherwise qualified applicant. Employers should take a careful look at their hiring policies (especially with respect to drug testing) to verify that they are compliant with the ADA.