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In the Midst of an Opioid Crisis, Employers Should Update Employee Manuals

Many employers have a zero-tolerance policy directed at illegal drugs, but most do not have a prescription drug policy in place. Taking prescription drugs is not illegal, making it difficult for employers to institute policies that affect employees’ ability to medicate. Despite this difficulty, the country is currently experiencing an opioid epidemic that some have stated is the worst epidemic in our history. The epidemic is so severe that President Trump declared the crisis a national public emergency in October 2018. Given this, it is imperative employers revise their prescription drug policies within employee manuals.

To start, prescription drug policies should outline what an employee must do if they are prescribed drugs that commonly cause impairment, such as opioids. If the employee is performing dangerous activities on a job-site, the policy should clearly inform the employee that performing the task while under the influence of opioids is prohibited.

The policy should also state what actions the employer will take if he or she believes an employee is taking prescription drugs without a prescription or is taking the drug in larger doses/more frequently than recommended. To accomplish this, employers can add prescription drug testing to illicit drug tests to determine if an employee is taking prescription drugs without a prescription.

Employers must tread lightly when making decisions about an employee’s ability to perform their job duties because the ADA and other state discrimination policies provide protections to employees who are taking prescription drugs. Employers can restrict what employees do when performing dangerous jobs, but employers can still find themselves in hot water for firing an employee for prescription pain killer use.

Author’s note: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation. Regulations and laws may vary depending on your location. Consult with a licensed attorney in your area if you wish to obtain legal advice and/or counsel for a particular legal issue.