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Court cautions employers regarding mandatory disclosures of prescription drug use

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that an employer’s substance abuse program made an impermissible medical inquiry under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it asked an employee to disclose all prescription drugs he was taking.

In Williams v. FedEx Corp. Services, the plaintiff requested a medical leave of absence from his job at FedEx and stated the reason for leave as work-related stress and anxiety. In seeking, short-term disability benefits, the plaintiff also disclosed to FedEx’s benefits plan administrator that he was experiencing withdrawal from Suboxone.

FedEx has a substance abuse policy that requires employees who seek leave for substance-related reasons to participate in a substance abuse treatment program before returning to work. When the benefits plan administrator reported to FedEx that the plaintiff’s leave was for substance-related reasons, FedEx required the plaintiff participate in the treatment program and to disclose all prescription drugs he was taking.

However, the plaintiff denied his leave was related to substance abuse and sued FedEx, stating that, among other things, the questions about his prescription drug use could be considered an impermissible medical inquiry under the ADA.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiff and reversed a previous dismissal of the claim and remanded the case to a lower court for further fact-finding. The Tenth Circuit stated that under the ADA, employers may only require medical examinations and inquiries that are based on legitimate business needs and that FedEx failed to satisfy this requirement because there was no evidence the plaintiff was misusing the drugs he was legally prescribed.

Ultimately, the ruling serves as a reminder to employers to exercise caution before requiring any applicants or employees to disclose certain medical conditions and/or legally obtained prescriptions as the ADA restricts companies’ abilities to make such inquiries or examinations.

Source: Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein, LLP, 3/31/2017

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