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Court provides guidance on DATWA drug tests, time limits

by on
in Employment Law,Human Resources

The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently gave employers some certainty regarding the state’s Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace Act (DATWA). But that certainty is a double-edged sword.

The court ruled that the law carries a two-year statute of limitations on wrongful termination claims. How­­ever, it also opened the door for em­­ployees to seek punitive damages.

DATWA prohibits employers from terminating someone on the basis of a first confirmed positive drug or alcohol test. The law also requires employers to offer substance-abuse treatment, and prohibits adverse employment action on the basis of a blood-alcohol screen. Employers must offer substance-abuse treatment to employees who fail drug tests and can only terminate them if they refuse to participate in a treatment plan.

Employers have complained that DATWA’s requirement to keep impaired employees in their jobs while in rehabilitation may create a workplace safety issue in violation of state and federal laws.

Until the Court of Appeals decision, employers did not know how long an employee had to file a wrongful termination claim under DATWA. The appeals court has said two years.

The court also ruled that wrongful termination is an intentional tort under state law, meaning em­­ployees could possibly seek punitive damages.

In this case, the employee sued two years and 11 months after being tested. Most likely, he will appeal to the state Supreme Court to permanently settle the statute-of-limitations issue. Whether any party appeals the intentional-tort issue remains to be seen.

Note: Because DATWA is one of the nation’s most restrictive workplace drug testing laws, employers based in other states need specific drug testing procedures in place for their Minnesota employees.

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