Can I be fired if I test positive for a drug that was prescribed by my doctor?

Question:

I have attention deficit disorder (ADD), for which I take Adderall. I work in the office of a large trucking company, doing payroll and scheduling. The company has always had a drug testing program for truck drivers. Last week, the owner announced that they were planning to extend the program to all company employees. We all received a written notice about the testing procedures, and we will all be drug tested in 30 days. I know that Adderall shows up as an amphetamine on drug screens, and I'm worried that I might get fired for taking it. What are my rights?

Answer:

Your rights in this situation depend on your state's drug testing laws and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But the bottom line is that you will likely be protected from discipline or termination based on a positive drug test.

There are a few types of private employers that are required to drug test. Among them are certain transportation industries subject to the control of the federal Department of Transportation. These employers must test at least some of their employees to ensure public safety. However, this requirement generally extends only to those employees who could do significant damage if working while impaired, that is, the drivers themselves.

Assuming your employer is not required to test its non-driving employees for drugs, it could still be allowed to do so by state law. Virtually every state allows employers to test applicants for drug use at the time of hire. The rules for current employees, however, are more varied and more restrictive. For example, some states don't allow random drug testing, while other states allow random drug testing, but impose strict protocols governing when and how employees may be tested. To find out what your state allows and requires, select it from the list at State Laws on Drug Testing.

Even if your employer has the legal right to test, that doesn't mean it can fire or discipline you for a positive result. The ADA protects qualified employees with disabilities: those who can perform the essential functions of their jobs, with or without reasonable accommodation. If you are taking a legally prescribed drug for a disability, as it sounds like you are, then your employer may not penalize you based on that fact alone. If the drug impaired your ability to perform your job safely, the situation would be different. However, because you work in payroll, it seems highly unlikely that taking Adderall would affect your ability to safely perform your job. And, as long as you are able to perform the essential functions of your job with or without accommodation, you are protected from discrimination based on your disability.

Typically, employees have an opportunity during the drug testing process to sit down with a medical officer and talk about their prescription drug use. This might happen before you are tested, after you are tested, or both. At the earliest opportunity, explain that you are taking Adderall, which was prescribed by your doctor for your ADD. You might want to have a copy of your prescription on hand as well.

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