Discrimination Against Opioid Use Disorder

6 Sep

Discrimination Against Job Applicants and Employees with Opioid Use Disorder

The opioid epidemic has greatly impacted individuals from all walks of life throughout the United States. In an effort by WorkSaver to keep employers advised on current regulations dealing with employment discrimination, the following information is provided as it applies opioid use disorder (OUD).

As per Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Employers should maintain vigilance and establish a well-defined policy for avoiding any type of discriminatory practice against job applicants and employees who are being treated for OUD by a Medicine-Assisted Treatment (MAT) program. These individuals have the right under federal law to seek medically approved treatment for opioid use disorder that includes prescribed drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine without discrimination resulting in any type of adverse impact on employability.

Employers should conduct individual assessments to determine if a prescribed drug taken as part of MAT Program has any adverse impact on safety (e.g., when operating heavy equipment). If there is a reasonable concern that there will be an impact on safety, the employer should determine its ability to offer a reasonable accommodation until medical treatment is completed.

The following is a case in point:

In Indiana, the Justice Department announced that it entered into a settlement agreement with the Indiana State Board of Nursing (Nursing Board) to resolve claims it violated Title II of the ADA. The settlement agreement ensured that nurses who take medication to treat opioid use disorder (OUD) can remain on their medication when participating in the Indiana State Nursing Assistance Program. The program assisted in rehabilitating and monitoring nurses with substance use disorders, and is often required for these nurses to maintain an active license or have one reinstated. The department has previously notified the Nursing Board of its findings and described the remedial measures necessary for the Nursing Board to address the ADA violation identified. This case was handled jointly by the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana.

“Indiana may not deny individuals life-saving medications, including medications that treat opioid use disorder, based on stereotypes and misinformation,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Requiring nurses to stop taking prescribed medication as a condition of maintaining a nursing license violates the ADA, and not only creates barriers to recovery, but inappropriately limits employment opportunities based on disability.”

“Following the Justice Department’s findings and the parties’ settlement agreement, Indiana must now enact policies to ensure that Hoosier nurses will not be forced to choose between their recovery and their livelihoods.”

Under the terms of the agreement, the Nursing Board will allow nurses to participate in the states’ rehabilitation program while taking medication, including medication to treat OUD, when the medication is prescribed by a licensed practitioner as part of a medically necessary treatment plan and incorporated into a recovery monitoring agreement. In addition, the Nursing Board has agreed to revise its written polices to ensure that nurses taking prescribed medications for OUD are not subjected to discriminatory conditions or terms. The Nursing Board has also agreed to pay a total of $70,000 in damages to the complainant, and to report periodically on its compliance to the United States.

Methadone and buprenorphine (including brand names Subutex and Suboxone) are approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat OUD. According to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), methadone and buprenorphine help diminish the effects of physical dependency on opioids. When taken as prescribed, these medications are safe and effective.

The Civil Rights Division, together with U.S. Attorneys’ offices, has been working to remove discriminatory barriers to recovery for individuals who have completed, or are participating in, treatment for OUD. Through outreach, technical assistance and enforcement under the ADA, the Civil Rights Division seeks to ensure that those in treatment or recovery can successfully participate in their communities and the workforce. For example:

  • On April 5, 2022, the department issued guidance on protections for people with OUD under the ADA.
  • On March 24, 2022, the department entered into a settlement agreement with the Massachusetts Trial Court to resolve allegations that its drug court violated the ADA by discriminating against individuals with OUD.
  • On March 17, 2022, the department entered into a settlement agreement with Ready to Work, a Colorado-based employment, residential and social services program for individuals experiencing homelessness, resolving allegations that the program denied admission to an individual because she takes medication for OUD.
  • On Feb. 24, 2022, the department filed a lawsuit against the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania, alleging that it prohibits or otherwise limits participants in its court supervision programs from using medication to treat OUD.

WorkSaver Systems has considerable expertise and a long lasting proven record (since 1993) of providing physical abilities employment testing nation-wide that is highly effective and avoids all forms of employment discrimination. For any information pertaining to preventing employment discrimination, especially as it relates to physical abilities testing, job demands validation, and/or conducting interactive accommodation reviews, please e-mail Dr. Richard Bunch (CEO) or Mr. Trevor Bardarson (President) at or respectively or call our main office at (800)414-2174.

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