Drug Tests to Stay Employed, to Receive Unemployment Benefits

Drug tests are a standard part of employment. Those offered a job often need to submit for one, in addition to a background check, but as prescription drug use has increased in recent years, employers are now flagging employees with legal substances in their system. At what point does a drug test go too far?

A story in The Seattle Times indicates that drug tests might be reaching the limits of invasiveness. As the article mentions, employers, particularly those in manufacturing fields, have fired employees who, after submitting to such tests, were found to have legal painkillers in their systems. Some of these, such as hydrocodone, are considered to impair a worker’s ability to operate machinery.

At the same time, however, should an employee simply not take a medication because it will show up on a random drug test? As the Times article mentions, this notion trends a thin line: on one hand, levels of prescription medications may indicate a worker is abusing them or is regularly impaired on the job, and on another, firing an employee who takes medications regularly for pain or another physical condition may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

From the perspective of the employee, it seems, getting fired over legal medications may cause other employment problems down the line. But much like a background check is used in employment cases, a drug test should be used in the same context: no absolutes and analyze and interpret the information in regards to the duties and needs of the position.

Unemployment, however, isn’t off limits to possible drug testing, either. The Washington Post recently printed an editorial regarding potential mandatory drug tests for the unemployed in South Carolina to receive benefits. Although this hasn’t occurred as of yet, it has the potential to marginalize and stigmatize the unemployed even more.