Articles News / 11.24.2015

Employers Cannot Refuse to Hire Methadone Users

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By Alex E. Jones

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) recently filed a lawsuit against Randstad, an employment staffing agency, for refusing to hire a qualified candidate due to her medicinal use of methadone. EEOC v. Randstad, US, LP, 1:15-CV-03354. The applicant, April Cox, is a recovering heroin addict who has been enrolled in a supervised methadone program since 2011. Randstad requires its applicants to submit to a mandatory drug test. Ms. Cox informed the manager of her methadone treatment program prior to the drug test to which the manager responded that “I’m sure we don’t hire people on methadone.” Cox was not hired as a result of her use of methadone.

The EEOC alleges Randstad’s conduct amounts to a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”). The EEOC alleges that Ms. Cox is disabled because she is a recovering substance abuser. It is because of her disability, i.e. her use of methadone, that Randstad refused to hire her. Therefore, the EEOC argues, Randstad did not hire Ms. Cox because she was disabled, in violation of the ADA.

The EEOC has a history of success in its lawsuits filed on behalf of methadone users and, more generally, prescription medication users. Indeed, in 2012 the EEOC settled a lawsuit for $37,500 where the employer refused to hire a methadone user, and as recently as April 2015 the EEOC settled a lawsuit for $59,000 where the employee was terminated for his prescription medication use.

EEOC v. Randstad is particularly relevant due to the uptick in heroin use across the country, and especially in Ohio. The increased number of heroin users is likely to mean an increased number of recovering heroin addicts entering the workforce. Like Ms. Cox, these new workers will likely be enrolled in some type of methadone treatment plan. Employers may increasingly face a situation similar to Randstad’s, and they should be proactive in order to avoid discriminating against such applicants.

Employers should review their hiring policies with regard to methadone and prescription medication users. Employers with blanket policies against hiring such candidates are sure to face scrutiny and, possibly, legal liability. It is advisable for employers to decide to hire or not hire a methadone or prescription drug user on a case-by-case basis. Employers should consider factors such as whether the applicant’s prescription medication use would prevent the applicant from fully performing his or her job duties or whether the applicant’s prescription medication use could pose a potential safety hazard to the workplace.

Please contact your KJK attorneys to discuss how to reconcile the needs of your business and workforce with these issues.