On February 27, 2018, a U.S. District Court in Ohio granted a Motion for Summary Judgment in favor of defendant Repacorp, Inc. (“Repacorp”), dismissing the employee’s disability discrimination and retaliation claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Sloan v. Repacorp, Inc., 3: 16-cv-00161 (S.D. Ohio Feb. 27, 2018).
Prior to being hired in 2007, Sloan was prescribed medication for back and neck pain, and, in 2013, he began taking morphine. Sloan did not disclose his medication use to his employer. In 2014, a coworker informed Sloan’s immediate supervisor that Sloan had solicited Vicodin from the coworker a few weeks prior. Sloan’s supervisor then informed Repacorp’s President Tony Heinl (“Heinl”), who immediately sent Sloan for a drug test. After testing positive for hydrocodone (the opiate found in Vicodin), Sloan was referred to Repacorp’s Employee Assistance Program (“EAP”). Sloan’s EAP coordinator requested Sloan provide information from his physician regarding his ability to work with his medical condition, whether there were any limitations to his ability to work after receiving treatment, his current medications, and whether his current medications impact his ability to concentrate on the job. Repacorp placed Sloan on paid leave “pending the receipt of information from his physician.”
Sloan eventually admitted that he had abused morphine at work at least once. Sloan also admitted to taking non-prescribed Vicodin at work at least twice. Sloan worked with and around heavy machinery on a daily basis, and it was undisputed that the machinery was very dangerous. Heinl asked Sloan to “consult with his doctor to determine if there were any alternative medications or treatment for his pain condition that did not include opiates.” Without consulting with his physician, Sloan determined that he would stay on his medication and told Heinl that he would continue to take it.
Because of Sloan’s refusal to cooperate with Heinl’s request for additional information concerning Sloan’s restrictions and potential for using alternative medications, Repacorp reasonably concluded that “Sloan ‘chose drugs over his job’,” and Sloan’s employment was terminated. In finding for the employer, the court agreed that Sloan “failed to cooperate and/or participate in the interactive process required of all employees requesting accommodations under the ADA” and that Repacorp’s termination of Sloan did not violate the ADA.
COUNSEL TO MANAGEMENT:
The potential for employees’ use of opioids and/or other pain medications to interfere with their ability to safely perform their work, particularly when working with dangerous machinery, is a serious concern for many employers. This is increasingly true given the national opioid crisis and the emergence of decriminalized marijuana in many states.
As a result, it is extremely important that employers have an effective policy prohibiting drugs in the workplace, including requiring employees to give employers notice if they are taking prescription drugs that may impair their ability to perform their work safely and providing for drug testing under the appropriate circumstances. It is equally important that employers have adequate policies and procedures in place to engage employees with dependency issues or those whose disabilities require serious pain medication treatment in a timely, good-faith interactive process to determine if effective reasonable accommodations exist and that employers consider the ADA and similar state laws before terminating employees. If your company has any questions about adopting or updating your policies on drugs in the workplace, drug testing, or accommodating those with disabilities, please contact the experts at the Saqui Law Group.