By Thomas Ahearn, ESR News Editor

The story of a woman who lost her job after working more than two decades at an automotive plant because of a failed drug test in which she tested positive for a legally prescribed drug is revealed in a recent  New York Times article, ‘Drug Testing Poses Quandary for Employers.’

The woman’s employer for 22 years had changed its drug testing policy to test for selected prescription drugs in addition to illegal drugs, according to the Times, and the prescription medication she took for back pain — a narcotic prescribed by her doctor called hydrocodone, a drug her employer considered unsafe — showed up on her drug test.

The Times reports that the woman has sued her former employer for discrimination and invasion of privacy, while the automotive company contends employees on certain medications pose a safety hazard and its employment drug testing policy considered a prescription drug unsafe if its label included a warning against driving or operating machinery. The case is currently in court.

Increasingly, employers are struggling to find ways to address “the growing reliance of Americans on powerful prescription drugs for pain, anxiety, and other maladies” that may indicate that many of these employees report to work “with potent drugs in their systems,” reports the Times.

But issues of ‘security’ and ‘privacy’ seem to be pitted against each other, as employers try to maintain safe work environments through employment drug testing but employees cite privacy concerns and contend that they should not be fired for taking legal medications, especially if for injuries sustained on the job.

Citing data from the results of more than 500,000 drug tests, the Times reports:

  • The rate of employees testing positive for prescription opiates rose by more than 40 percent from 2005 to 2009, and by 18 percent in 2009 alone.
  • Workers tested for drugs after accidents were four times more likely to have opiates in their systems than those tested before being hired.

Because of the wide use of prescription drugs in today’s society, employers now face the challenge of setting proper employment drug testing rules about prescription drug use in the workplace to find the right balance between ‘worker security’ and ‘worker privacy’ in order to avoid violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to lawyers with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the ADA prohibits employers from asking employees about prescription drug use unless those employees compromise safety or cannot perform their job for medical reasons, the Times reports.

“Like background screening, effective drug testing should occur at the intersection of security and privacy,” says Attorney Lester Rosen, founder and President of Employment Screening Resources (ESR), a San Francisco area company that provides background checks and drug testing, and author of ‘The Safe Hiring Manual – The Complete Guide To Keeping Criminals, Terrorists, and Imposters Out of Your Workplace.’ “Employers need to balance a safe and secure working environment that protects workers and the general public with the legitimate concerns employees have about privacy issues.”

For more information about effective employment drug testing, visit the from Employment Screening Resources (ESR) Services page at

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) is the company that wrote the book on background checks with ‘The Safe Hiring Manual’ by ESR founder and President Lester Rosen. ESR is recognized by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®) as Background Screening Credentialing Council (BSCC) Accredited for proving compliance with the Background Screening Agency Accreditation Program (BSAAP). For more information about ESR, visit