An American Way of Life: Prescription Drug Use in the Modern ADA Workplace

By Lee, Elisa Y. | Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

An American Way of Life: Prescription Drug Use in the Modern ADA Workplace


Lee, Elisa Y., Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems


The dramatic rise in prescription drug use in the United States over the past two decades, with its attendant risk of a myriad of side effects, has left employers struggling with ways to balance their interests in productivity and safety with potential liability for violating their employees' legal rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the ADA, an employer may claim a "direct threat" defense if it fired or refused to hire an employee based on a threat the employer determined the employee posed to safety and health in the workplace. In a recent case, several employees brought an ADA suit against their employer after they were fired from their safety-sensitive jobs for the mere legal use of certain prescription drugs their employer had decided posed a safety risk in its workplace. The district court denied the employer's motion for summary judgment on the ground that a reasonable juror could find that the employer's drug policy was broader than necessary because the employer automatically excluded all employees who took certain drugs from working at the company, without any regard for individualized circumstances as required by the ADA. However, the Sixth Circuit reversed the decision on the ground that the employees were not disabled and thus were not protected under the ADA. In light of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 and other developments since the passage of the ADA in 1990 that call for expanded protection under the Act, this Note establishes the contours of the highly individualized inquiry employers and courts must perform in addressing the problem of prescription drug use in the workplace.

I. INTRODUCTION

A little over two decades ago, the Supreme Court first ruled that employers may test employees for illegal drug use in the workplace, subject to certain requirements.1 A year after that decision, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act2 ("ADA" or "the Act"), which expanded the scope of civil rights protections for individuals with disabilities3 and set parameters for the testing of alcohol and illegal drug use in the workplace.4 Since then, a dramatic rise in prescription drug use among Americans for "pain, anxiety and other maladies"5 has resulted in the presence of a significant, and continually growing, number of employees in the American workplace with powerful, albeit legal, drugs in their systems.6 With prescription drug testing, prompted by concern over the risk of a myriad of side effects such drugs pose, employers have struggled to balance their interests in productivity and safety7 with potential liability for violating their employees' legal rights. These concerns are especially marked in industries that involve high risks of injury, such as manufacturing, transportation, construction, healthcare, and law enforcement.8

In 2007, Dura Automotive Systems fired employees who tested positive for certain prescription drugs, including the painkiller Oxycodone, one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States,9 even though the employees were taking them pursuant to a prescription and under a doctor's supervision.10 The company acted on a presumption that certain prescription drugs create a safety risk in the workplace.11 The employees had worked on the manufacturing floor assembling glass windows for cars, and the company claimed that their jobs were safety-sensitive.12 Under the company's drug-testing program, all employees were tested for twelve drugs, including legally prescribed drugs such as Xanax and Oxycodone, which the company deemed unsafe because their labels included warnings against driving or operating machinery.13 Several of the fired employees sued Dura for discrimination under the ADA.14 One plaintiff, Sue Bates, who suffered from depression, bipolar disorder, back pain, and ADHD, lost her job of many years after testing positive for Oxycodone, even though she had never had a safety violation while on her prescribed medication.15 The company had changed its policy during her employment to test for certain prescription drugs as well as illegal ones, such that her medication, among many others, was suddenly and automatically considered unsafe. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

An American Way of Life: Prescription Drug Use in the Modern ADA Workplace
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.