Drug Testing Laws in Rhode Island

Rhode Island places strict limits on employer drug testing.

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If an employer or a prospective employer in Rhode Island has asked you to take a drug test, you’ll want to know your legal rights. Federal law places few limits on employer drug testing: Although the federal government requires testing by employers in a few safety-sensitive industries (including transportation, aviation, and contractors with NASA and the Department of Defense), federal law doesn’t otherwise require – or prohibit drug tests. For the most part, state and local laws determine whether a private employer may require drug testing.

Rhode Island employers are not required to drug test applicants or employees.

Drug Testing for Rhode Island Applicants

Employers in Rhode Island may require applicants to take a drug test after making a condition offer of employment. Employees must be allowed to provide test samples in private, outside the presence of any person. A positive result must be confirmed by a retest in a federally certified laboratory.   

Drug Testing for Rhode Island Employees

A Rhode Island employer may require an employee to take a drug test only if there are reasonable grounds, based on specific, documented observations, to believe the employee may be under the influence of a controlled substance that is impairing job performance. Testing is not allowed in any other situation.

The employee must be allowed to provide the test sample in private, outside the presence of anyone else. A positive test result must be confirmed by a retest in a federally certified laboratory, and the employee has the right to have the sample retested separately at the employer’s expense.

An employer may not fire the employee on the basis of a positive drug test result, but must instead refer the employee to a licensed substance abuse professional. After the referral, the employer may require additional testing and may terminate the employee if those test results show that the employee is continuing to use drugs.

Legal Claims Arising From Drug Testing

Rhode Island law provides that employers who violate the drug test provisions can be found guilty of a misdemeanor and subjected to fines and, in civil lawsuits, claims for punitive damages and attorney fees. In addition, employees and applicants may have legal claims based on how the test was conducted, who was tested, or how the results were used. Here are some examples:

  • Disability discrimination. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects an applicant or employee who is taking medication for a disability. Some prescribed medications turn up on drug tests, and some drugs that would otherwise be illegal (such as opiates) are legitimately prescribed for certain conditions. If an applicant is turned down because of a positive drug test, and the applicant's medication was legally prescribed for a disability, the company could be liable.
  • Other discrimination claims. An employer who singles out certain groups of employees – for example, by race, age, or gender – for drug testing could face a discrimination claim.
  • Invasion of privacy. Even an employer that is allowed or required to test might violate employee privacy in the way it conducts the test. For example, requiring employees to disrobe or provide a urine sample in front of others could be a privacy violation.
  • Defamation. An employee might have a valid claim for defamation if the employer publicizes that the employee tested positive, the test result was false, and the employer knew or had reason to know of the error. 

by: , J.D.

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