Sometimes, employers do not fully understand or are not fully aware of their obligations to their employees. Federal laws that are in place provide many protections for workers and their employers are obligated to honor such protections regardless of whether they know or understand them. To further complicate things, the protections provided by such laws evolve as things that fall under the purview of such laws grow in change in society. For instance, the opioid crisis in the U.S. has raised many novel issues as well as the fact that opioid use disorder is considered a disability and, therefore, workers suffering from this disorder are entitled to certain protections afforded by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
ADA Protections for Workers in Treatment for Opioid Use
Recently, federal guidance was released to specifically remind employers that workers in treatment or recovery for opioid use disorder are entitled to protection from employment discrimination pursuant to the ADA. With the persistence of the opioid crisis in the U.S. and the fact that much of it has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, this is an important reminder to keep in mind for employers across the country.
The ADA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a person’s ability to participate in a major life activity. Furthermore, there must be a history or record of the disability as well as a perception that the worker has a disability. Opioid use disorder falls within the ADA’s purview if a worker suffers from the disorder and is no longer using illegal drugs. The worker must have been successfully rehabilitated from the disorder or is currently participating in a rehabilitation program and not using illicit drugs.
Those qualifying for ADA protections for opioid use disorder may be entitled to certain accommodations in the workplace. It should be noted, of course, that the ADA applies to businesses with a minimum of 15 employers. ADA protections prohibit employers from discriminating against workers with qualifying disabilities as well as requiring employers to attempt reasonable accommodations to help disabled workers perform their essential job functions. So, for instance, employers should consider taking steps to protect employees with opioid use disorder by doing things like training supervisors to recognize that an employee with opioid use disorder may be disabled and may be making accommodation requests pursuant to the ADA. Furthermore, employers should be careful in their drug-screening policies. Unsuspecting employers may be targeting employees for taking prescription medication used to treat addiction which would mean their drug-screening policies would run afoul of the law.
Employment Law Attorneys
Opioid use disorder is very real and is more pervasive than some may realize. Employers should recognize such and take steps to protect and accommodate employees suffering from the disorder. If you have been discriminated against by your employer because of opioid use disorder or your employer has failed to make reasonable accommodations for this disorder pursuant to the ADA, talk to the team at Castronovo & McKinney about your options. Contact us today.