HR Tip of the Month: Don't be a Dope About Opioids in the WorkplaceJuly 2017

The pernicious opioid epidemic sweeping the nation is well known, and at some point employers may have to deal with an employee who has a substance abuse problem. These situations have implications on everything from workplace drug testing, medical leave laws, and reasonable accommodations to employee assistance programs.

Typically, employers will start to notice signs of opioid abuse including frequent lateness, poor attention to detail and a general drop in performance. Nothing prohibits an employer for terminating an employee for poor performance. However, if the employee comes to the employer before the employer takes any disciplinary action and says they have a substance abuse problem, this changes everything and employers must treat the situation delicately.

Generally, employees who are currently using illegal drugs are not considered “individuals with disabilities.” However, individuals addicted to drugs but who are no longer using and receiving treatment for addiction may be protected by disability discrimination laws. Under New Jersey and Federal medical leave laws, employees are generally entitled to job protection if they seek an unpaid leave to attend rehab. When they return, they may need other accommodations. For example, if an employee requests time off or a revised schedule to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings or other support groups, those requests need to be considered in good faith by an employer as part of the interactive process to determine reasonable accommodations under New Jersey and Federal law.

These types of employee issues can be riddled with pitfalls for the unknowing employer and sometimes even the knowledgeable employer. These employee issues are rarely, if ever, resolved at once. Remember to be patient, tread lightly, and always consult with legal counsel before taking any action.

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