Employees taking pain medication at work

You were just notified by a reliable source that one of your workers is taking pain pills while he’s on the clock. You don’t know what the medication is exactly or if it is safe for him to do his job while he is on this medication. What can you do?

The short answer is – it depends. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) restricts employers from asking applicants and employees medical-related questions. Employers may only ask employees about medications when there is a business or job-related necessity. If the employee in the situation described above is a machine operator who regularly operates heavy machinery, which is a safety-sensitive job, it would be considered a business necessity to ensure the safety of the worker and the rest of your staff. Alternatively, if the employee works behind a desk all day, it is most likely not a business necessity to ask about their medications.  Employers also may not ask applicants about what medications they take before a job offer is made and they may not ask all employees to provide a list of medications they take. Blanket policies prohibiting the use of prescription medications should be avoided.

Employers have the right to know if their employees are working safely. If you find out that an employee is taking medication on the job that could affect their ability to safely perform their job, you need to have a conversation with the employee. You may ask the employee if they are taking medication(s) while at work, what the medication is, do they have a prescription for it, what is the dosage, what is it taken for, does they need to take it at work, is there an alternative to taking this medication at work (such as an over-the-counter medication), and if it has any adverse side-affects.

If there is a possibility that the medication may pose a risk to your employee’s safety, you may request that the employee provide a note from his or her doctor so that the doctor may address the safety issues. Providing the doctor with the employee’s job description may assist the doctor if they feel that restrictions are necessary to safely perform the work.

You must thoroughly document why you believe a safety hazard would exist if your employee was working while impaired. If you have a tricky HR situation such as the one described above, be sure to contact UAP to find out how we can help.