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New EEOC Guidance Answers Opioid Addiction and Employment Questions

August 06, 2020

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, opioid addiction continues to be a public health crisis. It presents many challenges to employers, including compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released two technical guidelines to address concerns about ADA employment provisions and the opioid epidemic. Opioids include prescription drugs such as codeine, morphine, oxycodone (OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet), and meperidine (Demerol), as well as illegal drugs like heroin.

Use of Codeine, Oxycodone and other Opioids

While making clear that current illegal drug use is not an ADA-covered disability, the first set of guidelines clarifies that individuals are protected from disability discrimination if they:

  • Lawfully use opioids
  • Are in treatment for opioid addiction
  • Receive medication-assisted treatment

Those who have recovered from addiction are also protected.

The document answers questions about workplace drug testing and reasonable accommodations for employees who legally use opioids. It also tells what to do if an employer has concerns about an employee’s ability to safely perform his or her job.

How Health Care Providers Can Help Current and Former Patients Who Have Used Opioids Stay Employed

The second set of guidelines is aimed at health care providers. It explains their patients’ legal rights in the workplace. According to the EEOC, medical providers often play a key part in the process between employers and workers as employers seek to understand the employee’s condition and potential need for reasonable accommodation. The document also describes ADA coverage limits and shows health care workers how to provide documentation of covered disabilities on their patients’ behalf.

Please contact Mark Fijman or any other member of Phelps’ Labor and Employment team if you have questions or need compliance advice and guidance.