Opioid Epidemic Raises Questions About Workplace Discrimination
ATLANTA — Business leaders are facing difficult questions as they tangle with handling employees who take prescribed opioid-based drugs. The genesis of the current opioid epidemic stems from the abuse of prescription painkillers. Employers have a right to demand that their business be a drug-free workplace. However, the opioid problem is so widespread that employers are highly likely to have employees battling addition. The difficult question is how businesses should handle the problem? Bizjournals.com reports that even if the employee is not a disabled person legally, the Americans with Disabilities Act might qualify as a disabled person based on the ADA. If that is the case, then the ADA would protect the employee against discrimination in the workplace.*
Even after the discovery that prescription painkillers led to illegal opioid abuse, Georgia residents continue to take the drugs. The Georgia Department of Health determined that heroin and fentanyl overdose deaths continue to rise. In 2017, 1,043 people succumbed to an opioid-based overdose. The scourge seeps its way into all facets of life, even on the job.
People have a right to work and take their medicine. Notwithstanding those rights, prescription opioids affect the way people work and can impair their daily functions. Employers have limited rights to test an employee for drugs, even after a workplace accident
Employers can take some measures to protect themselves and their employees. For example, updating personnel policies to treat people on an individual basis without making blanket prohibitions is advisable. Business owners should update their personnel policies to reflect the changing times regarding drug use or abuse. Additionally, employers should endeavor to educate their workers about safety concerns and offer assistance to people struggling with addiction.
Drug testing could become part of a business’ drug-free workplace policy. A drug-testing protocol applied uniformly will avoid the appearance of discrimination against a protected employee. Lastly, implementing an employee assistance program designed to help employees battling addiction can help avoid discrimination under the ADA.
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