EEOC issues two new technical bulletins
Amid the pandemic, there have been reports of increased drug use and fatal opioid overdoses. Isolation, uncertain job security, family distractions, and a lack of access to traditional support networks present unique challenges for employees who battle with substance abuse.
On August 5, the EEOC issued two technical bulletins on accommodation issues under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for employees who use opioid medications or may be addicted to opioids. Although the bulletins were created for employees and healthcare providers and do not provide new information (the stated purpose is to provide clarity), they do provide valuable insights to employers when dealing with an employee who legally uses opioids.
“Use of Codeine, Oxycodone, and Other Opioids: Information for Employees,” makes clear that current illegal drug use is not a covered disability and clarifies that individuals who are lawfully using opioid medication, are in treatment for opioid addiction and are receiving Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), or have recovered from their addiction, are protected from disability discrimination. Also, the document answers questions about reasonable accommodations that may be available to employees who legally use opioids, as well as what to do if an employer has concerns about the employee’s ability to safely perform his or her job.
Employers must allow employees to provide information about lawful opioid use, determine if there is a way to do the job safely and effectively with reasonable accommodation, document safety risks, provide accommodations to recovered employees, such as flex time to attend support meetings, and don’t automatically disqualify job applicants if they are in a treatment program.
The second document, “How Health Care Providers Can Help Current and Former Patients Who Have Used Opioids Stay Employed” informs health care providers about their patients’ legal rights in the workplace. When employees who use opioids qualify as individuals with disabilities under the ADA, it could be necessary for employers to interact with their health care providers to determine whether a reasonable accommodation would enable the employee to do the job without risk of substantial harm to themselves or others. Besides describing the coverage limits under the ADA, the document outlines the types of information employers may need to decide whether the employee has an ADA disability and requires a reasonable accommodation.
Drug testing trends
Even before the pandemic hit, workforce drug testing positivity rates were climbing, reaching a 16 year high in 2019. In its annual drug testing index, Quest Diagnostics Inc. found positivity rates in the combined U.S. workforce increased in urine drug tests, climbed to 4.5%, the highest level since 2003. In the general U.S. workforce, marijuana positivity grew from 2.8% in 2018 to 3.1% in 2019 – an overall surge of 29% since 2015, according to Quest’s data.
In addition to overall increases in workforce drug positives, specific regions of the United States, particularly the Midwest, experienced dramatic increases in positivity for cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as marijuana. For an interactive map with positivity rates and trend lines by three-digit zip code in the United States, visit DTIDrugMap.com.
The analysis of overall drug use also found that in the first few months of 2020, drug deaths increased about 13% compared with last year, “attributable partly to social isolation and other disruptions caused by COVID-19. “Retail Trade had the highest overall positivity rate and Accommodations and Food Services had the highest workforce positivity for marijuana.
There is concern that the stress and anxieties associated with the pandemic will push these numbers even higher. In many states where marijuana is legal, sales have reached record highs during the pandemic. In the press release regarding the report, Dr. Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostics notes, “There is no question that before COVID-19, rates of workplace drug positivity were trending in the wrong direction, based on our Quest Diagnostics data. The enormous strain caused by COVID-19 may prove to be an accelerant on this disturbing trend. Organizations will need to consider the impact of COVID-19 not only on workplace safety but also as a health concern for their employees for some time to come.”
While the industry has done a good job in reducing opioid prescriptions for injured workers – the share of all workers comp claims receiving opioids declined from 55% in 2012 to 34% in 2018 according to NCCI, employers should not relax their vigilance about prescribing behaviors during the pandemic. A recent comprehensive review of 13 studies with more than 13 million participants with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) funded by the National Safety Council (NSC) and published by McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, found that musculoskeletal disorders can be treated more effectively by medications and therapies other than opioids.
Yet, the difficult logistics of drug screening during the pandemic has led some employers to forgo pre-employment drug testing or postpone to a later date, if it’s allowed under state law. Still others have used mobile testing services, rather than a clinic.
Some employees refuse to report for a drug test based on COVID-19 concerns. Determining if this is truthful or a way to avoid being tested is tricky. It’s important to have a plan and a refusal to test policy. Drug testing may require new rules and new precautions that need to be communicated to those being tested. Further, if a drug test is positive employers should ask for an explanation to ensure compliance with the ADA.
For companies regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT), staying abreast of the changing notices is key.
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