The New York Times takes a look at companies drug testing their employees — and how legal use of prescription drugs can be a reason for firing someone:
The news, delivered in a phone call, left Sue Bates aghast: she was losing her job of 22 years after testing positive for a legally prescribed drug.
Her employer, Dura Automotive Systems, had changed the policy at its sprawling plant here to test for certain prescription drugs as well as illicit ones. The medication that Mrs. Bates was taking for back pain — hydrocodone, a narcotic prescribed by her doctor — was among many that the company, which makes car parts, had suddenly deemed unsafe.
“I don’t think it should end the way it did,” said Mrs. Bates, an assembly line worker who has sued Dura for discrimination and invasion of privacy. “You tell somebody you lost your job because you’re on prescription medication and they’re like, ‘Yeah, right.’ ” […]
What companies consider an effort to maintain a safe work environment is drawing complaints from employees who cite privacy concerns and contend that they should not be fired for taking legal medications, sometimes for injuries sustained on the job. […]
Setting rules about prescription drug use in the workplace is tricky, not least because it is difficult to prove impairment. Under Dura’s policy, a prescription drug was considered unsafe if its label included a warning against driving or operating machinery, but doctors say many users function normally despite such warnings.
Also, some employers find it difficult to deal with the problem partly for fear of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. It prohibits asking employees about prescription drugs unless workers are seen acting in a way that compromises safety or suggests they cannot perform their job for medical reasons, according to lawyers with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.