Three Issues Related to Drugs in the Workplace

When it comes to employees taking certain prescription medications—like opioids—employers may feel unsure about what they're allowed to say or do about it. Here's some information about three common issues that can arise in a ministry workplace. 

Issue #1: Prescription Drug Use

State and federal disability laws protect employees’ use of prescription medications, including opioid pain relievers. They even regulate an employer’s right to ask about the use of prescription drugs. Some organizations are updating the language in their drug-free workplace policies to address the misuse of painkillers. According to the National Safety Council, “the non-medical use of prescription drugs is unacceptable and may be treated the same as illegal drug abuse would be.” The National Safety Council is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to eliminate preventable deaths in our lifetime.  Find sample policy language in its Prescription Drug Employer Kit at nsc.org.

Issue #2: Asking About Prior Drug Use

Asking job applicants whether they have used alcohol or illegal drugs in the past can get ministries into trouble. “Past illegal drug addiction can be considered a protected disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act,” says Megan Torres, an associate attorney with Brotherhood Mutual. “It’s best not to ask about this in the application or pre-hiring stage of employment.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) offers guidance on what employers can and can’t ask job applicants at eeoc.gov.

Issue #3: Drug Testing

While employers generally have a right to a drug-free workplace, they can get into trouble if they don’t follow fair and compliant practices. It’s important to have a lawyer’s help in developing drug testing policies and procedures. Consistently following a clear and scientifically reliable protocol helps ensure that testing is done fairly and accurately, Torres says. It’s a good idea to inform job applicants that the ministry requires drug testing and to have drug tests conducted or confirmed by a government-certified laboratory. The National Safety Council also recommends:

  • Using a testing format that respects the privacy and dignity of each employee.
  • Having a well-written policy about drug use in the workplace. The policy should include discussing the disciplinary actions and the circumstances leading up to them and the testing procedures. Employees should understand how the test will be given, when it will be given, and which drugs the test will detect.
  • Requiring employees to read the policy and sign an acknowledgement that they have done so.
  • Documenting why each administered drug test was necessary and how it was performed.
  • Ensuring test results are treated as absolutely confidential medical information.
  • Responding in a consistent way to all workers who test positive.