We ran across this story last week involving the drug testing policy of the Baton Rouge, Louisiana bus system Capital Area Transit System (CATS). Over the past several years, CATS has enforced a “zero-tolerance drug policy,” which is to be expected when men and women are responsible for driving residents across the community. But should the policy also apply to executives? Selective enforcement is problematic, to say the least.
The controversy began when local television station WBRZ-ABC revealed the comptroller at CATS had tested positive in January for illicit drugs. The executive, who controls an estimated $30 million CATS budget, remains on the job.
Upon learning of this incident, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) immediately issued a call to rehire any employees terminated for a failed drug test. According to ATU Vice President Anthony Garland, CATS is selectively enforcing its zero-tolerance drug policy.
What a mess.
Reportedly, the comptroller tested positive for methamphetamine. A follow-up test two weeks later also failed.
CATS’ CEO Bill Deville said they were investigating the issue and later released a statement.
“Capital Area Transit System (CATS) is shocked and disappointed that WBRZ would run a story about the drug test of one of CATS’ managerial employees,” the statement read. “An employee’s drug test results are strictly protected as confidential pursuant to Louisiana law. An investigation is underway to determine who released this confidential information.”
According to the statement, CATS’ existing drug policy only authorizes random testing of safety sensitive positions such as bus operators and mechanics. The CATS’ comptroller does not serve in a safety sensitive position.
“The comptroller has steadfastly denied consuming or taking any illicit drugs of any type,” read the statement. “It has since been confirmed that CATS’ comptroller had been prescribed Adderall. Certain medical professionals have opined that Adderall can produce a false positive result of amphetamine in a drug test.”
There’s a lot to unpack here and as we write, the CATS’ Board of Trustees is having a series of emergency meetings to determine employment for not just the comptroller, but the CEO.
Let’s start with the drug test results going public. Any employee who takes a drug test should have reasonable confidence their results will not be released to a TV news reporter.
Generally, drug test results, like all employee medical information, should be kept strictly confidential. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “if the results of a drug test reveal the presence of a lawfully prescribed drug or other medical information, such information must be treated as a confidential medical record.”
As a best practice, all drug test results should be filed in a confidential medical file separate from the general employee file. The department that receives drug test results should share results only on a need-to-know basis. For example, sharing drug test results with frontline managers is unnecessary beyond stating whether the results are pass or fail.
State drug testing laws or privacy laws may apply to drug test results as a matter of personal privacy. Also, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) may apply to drug test results depending on the facts involved.
Employers who implement a drug testing program should be sure to:
- • Have a written drug policy in employee handbooks;
• Require employees to sign an acknowledgment of receiving and reading the employee handbook;
• Identify safety-sensitive positions and have clear documentation necessary to support these designations;
• Identify legitimate interests for drug testing and have the documentation necessary to support those interests;
• Train supervisors on what factors constitute sufficient grounds for reasonable-suspicion testing and the importance of applying the policy evenhandedly;
• Train supervisors on the ramifications of taking action against employees who use prescription drugs as treatment for a disability covered by the ADA;
• And finally, make sure all employees are treated fairly and equally in accordance with clear written policy.
We are not aware as to the written policy at CATS, but it will be key when resolving this extremely tangled and now public issue.
The information and opinions expressed are for educational purposes only and are based on current practice, industry related knowledge and business expertise. The information provided shall not be construed as legal advice, express or implied.