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It’s OK to ban prescription drugs if you have genuine safety concerns

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Employees who take certain prescription drugs for legitimate medical conditions may be unable to work safely if their jobs involve heavy machinery, split-second judgment or the ability to remain alert. If that’s the case, it’s not disability discrimination to ban employees from working while on those medications.

Recent case:
Daniel Kosmicki worked for Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Company as a train conductor and engineer. The railroad had a written policy that called for termination if conductors and engineers used drugs or alcohol on the job. Drugs included prescription medications that have “an adverse effect on the employee’s ability to work safely.”

When Kosmicki failed a simulator test administered to test his ability to operate a train, he admitted he was taking several prescription drugs that cause sleepiness and dizziness. The railroad then fired him for violating the drug and alcohol policy and for failing to disclose his prescription drug use on medical forms.

He sued, alleging he was being regarded as disabled even though he believed he could safely perform his job.

The court tossed out his case. It reasoned that the railroad had a legitimate reason to terminate him—namely, that he had been dishonest about his prescription drug use and had shown, by failing the simulator test, that he could not work safely while taking the drugs. Plus, taking the drugs violated the drug policy. (Kosmicki v. Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Company, No. 08-1511, 8th Cir., 2008)

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