When Are Opioid Users Protected by Anti-Discrimination Law?

Addiction to opioids is a prevalent problem that affects people from every economic class and social background, and which remains a major public health problem. In addition to issues with physical and psychological health, people who are dealing with opioid addiction often face problems at work when their problems become revealed. To address these issues, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidance to employers and healthcare providers about potential implications of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on handling employees dealing with current or past opioid addiction.

Title I of the ADA makes it illegal for any employer in the United States with more than fifteen employees to discriminate against an employee for having a physical or psychological disability. It also requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, which includes employees dealing with psychological problems like addiction. It also makes it illegal to retaliate against employees who report disability discrimination regardless of their own disability status.

While opioid use and opioid addiction are not seen as typical disabilities, they can have a substantial impact on people’s lives. Prescription opioid users often become addicted after suffering a major accident or illness that causes severe pain, and many recreational opioid users are self-medicating for conditions they could not get treated normally. Even if the original cause of the pain eventually heals, the addiction remains, making it more difficult to function normally.

In its guidance, the EEOC defines three primary categories of people that are protected under this new guidance:

  1. People who are currently taking prescribed opioid medications for a diagnosed medical condition.
  2. People currently in treatment for opioid addiction.
  3. People who have recovered from an opioid addiction.

For the first group, one of the primary concerns for the EEOC is making reasonable accommodations for people taking prescription opioids for medical issues. For example, the EEOC guidance notes that employees should be allowed to explain a positive test result for opioids if they are subjected to a mandatory drug test. So long as the effects of the medication do not impact an employee’s ability to perform their job safely and effectively, and so long as the accommodations are not overly burdensome or expensive, employers should accommodate employees on these medications.

For people currently in treatment for opioid addiction, one of the principle concerns is allowing employees to alter their schedules to attend therapy or rehabilitation for their addiction. This also applies to people who previously dealt with addiction who are attending therapy to avoid relapse. This is to allow employees struggling with addiction to maintain their psychological health without their work impeding their recovery.

It should be noted that while these allowances should be made for legal drug use, there are no such benefits for anyone who takes opioids illegally. This is true even if they have a diagnosed medical condition that would typically be treated through opioid medications. The purpose of the ADA is to protect people engaged in legal activity, not to promote or protect illegal drug use.

If an employee wants a reasonable accommodation, all they need to do is ask for one. However, an employer can require an employee to submit a written request for a reasonable accommodation, as well as explain how that accommodation would help them. If the accommodation is not overly expensive or cumbersome, the employer should then provide that accommodation to the best of their ability.

If you have gotten into a legal dispute with your employer, it is important that you seek the guidance of an experienced New York employment lawyer who can protect your legal rights and advocate on your behalf. Steven Mitchell Sack, the Employee’s Lawyer, is a New York employment lawyer with more than 39 years’ experience handling the many aspects of employment law. To schedule an appointment with New York City employment lawyer Steven Mitchell Sack, call (917) 371-8000.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *