Drug Test for Prescription Medication May be Lawful under ADA

A random drug test to detect the use of prescription medication may be lawful under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), according to a recent Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals case. Bates v. Dura Automotive Systems (6th Cir. 2014).

In 2007, Dura began testing its manufacturing employees for both illegal drugs and legally prescribed drugs that carried a warning label about operating machinery. Employees who tested positive were directed to disclose their prescription drugs to the third party Dura used to administer drug tests. Employees who subsequently tested positive for those prescription drugs were terminated.

At issue was the ADA’s prohibition against subjecting employees to medical exams or related disability inquiries unless they are job-related and consistent with business necessity. The company argued that its drug-testing regime sought no employee health information, but only to determine whether employees used illegal drugs or drugs bearing machine-operation warnings.

The court noted that the ADA generally prohibits asking employees what prescription drugs they take, unless that information is demonstrably job-related and consistent with business necessity. However, the court acknowledged, Dura did take steps to ensure that information about employees’ possible disabilities was not gathered.

“Dura’s drug-testing protocol pushes the boundaries of the EEOC’s medical-examination and disability-inquiry definition,” the court determined. However, Dura’s policy occupies a grey area of conduct neither prohibited by nor permitted by EEOC regulations or other guidance. Accordingly, the court remanded the case for trial to determine whether Dura’s unusual approach to drug testing constitutes a medical examination or medical inquiry.

MSEC will continue to follow this case, as it could have far-reaching consequences for employers.