Request For Medical Examination Was Permissible Under ADA After Positive Drug Test Result

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A federal court in Indiana dismissed an employee’s claim that his employer did not have the right to request a medical examination after he tested positive for drugs and subsequently admitted that he was taking numerous prescription medications that could create a safety risk.  Beal v. Muncie Sanitary District, Case No. 1:19-cv-01506 (S.D. Ind. Oct. 22, 2020).

The employee worked in a maintenance position for the District, which provided water and environmental sanitary services to the city of Muncie.  His job required him to drive a truck and to operate heavy machinery.  On April 6, 2018, the employee was involved in a minor accident while driving his truck at work.  There were no injuries and no damage to the truck.  In accordance with the District’s policy, the employee was sent for post-accident drug and alcohol testing.  The employee tested positive for opiates, benzodiazepines and oxycodone.  The testing laboratory advised the District that there could be a safety risk associated with one or more of his medications.  The District allowed the employee to return to work but removed him from performing safety-sensitive functions.

The District thereafter issued a written reprimand to the employee for failing to disclose the use of potentially dangerous prescription medications prior to performing safety-sensitive functions.  The employee refused to sign the reprimand, but admitted that he was taking allopurinol, lorazepam, citalopram, propranolol, and hydrocodone.

The employee’s doctor cleared him to return to work, including the performance of safety-sensitive functions.  The District’s Medical Review Officer (MRO), however, disagreed.  (A MRO is a physician who reviews positive drug test results on behalf of an employer).  The MRO stated that the employee could return to safety-sensitive work if the doctor would change the dosage of one of his medications, and if the employee would agree not to take hydrocodone within 8 hours of work.  The employee’s doctor refused, stating that the employee would not be able “to function in normal life or hold a job.”

Because the employee’s doctor and the MRO disagreed, the District requested that the employee submit to a medical examination by a third-party physician.  When the employee refused, he was fired.

The employee then filed a lawsuit, alleging violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 arising out of his termination, including discrimination, retaliation, and failure to accommodate his needs relating to his prescription medications.

Specifically, the employee claimed that forcing him to submit to a medical examination constituted disability discrimination.  The court disagreed, noting that the ADA permits medical examinations and inquiries when “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”  Because the drugs prescribed to the employee could impair his ability to perform his essential job functions (such as operating heavy machinery), it was reasonable for the District to ask him to submit to a medical examination.  Moreover, there also was a public safety risk because the employee was required to drive a truck.  Holding that the medical examination was permissible, the court stated, “[a]ny other ruling would force the District to untenably risk a negligence suit to avoid violating the ADA.”

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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