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Does an Employee Have to Disclose About Taking Prescription Medication?

by Barbara Falkenrath

Employees and job applicants are protected under the law from discriminatory employment practices based on the individual's medical condition. The use of prescription medication does not have to be disclosed to an employer except for situations where the use of the medication poses a potential threat to the safety of the individual or others in the work place.

Drug Screening

Many employers use pre-employment drug screens and, in some cases, random testing as tools to promote a drug-free work place. Applicants and employees are encouraged to provide the drug screening personnel a list of all medications they are currently taking. These medications will most likely show up in the drug screen and might result in a positive test. Most employers maintain a third-party testing group to ensure that the individual's personal medical information is not disclosed to the employer.

Safety Sensitive Positions

In situations where on-the-job use of the medication might jeopardize the health or safety of the individual or others, it is advisable to discuss the situation with your human resources representative. For instance, a bus driver who takes a medication that makes him groggy will want to discuss the situation with his employer to determine how best to minimize the risk, whether it's a leave of absence or reassignment for a period of time.

Laws that Protect the Employee

Your doctor can help you resolve any workplace issues related to your medication.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) makes it illegal for an employer to disclose personal medical information, while the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) make it illegal for an employer to discriminate based on an employee's medical condition. The use of medication might be a component in a situation where any or all of these laws come into play. If you have a medical condition that requires prescription drugs, talk with your human resources representative to determine if the situation fits within these laws. Also, discuss what kinds of reasonable accommodations can be made to do what's right for you while also protecting the company.

Possible Outcomes of Disclosing Prescription Medication Use

Once you've disclosed your prescription medication use, you might be asked to provide certification from your doctor that the use of the medication won't impact your ability to safely perform the essential functions of your job. A job description should be provided to the medical professional to assist in that evaluation. If it is determined that the use of the drug poses a threat to your health and safety, as well as the health and safety of others, the medical professional might be able to prescribe an alternate drug you can take while working. Or, you might be reassigned for a period of time to a job where there is no threat to health and safety. If there is no alternate job available, you may be put on medical leave until the situation is resolved. Any outcome should be discussed with the human resources representative and the company's medical review staff and legal staff, if applicable, to ensure that the your rights are protected and that the actions taken are within the law.

About the Author

Barbara Falkenrath holds a master's degree in human relations and an undergraduate degree in English. Falkenrath has earned the SHRM - SCP, SPHR and GPHR certifications. She has over 15 years of human resources leadership experience in global organizations and consults as a subject matter expert on human resources issues.

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