Employers Must Accommodate Certain Opioid-Using Workers, Per ADA Guidelines

Employers must accommodate some workers’ opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment, according to new guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on the rights of opioid users under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

It all comes down to whether the drugs are being used illegally or legally.

If employees are using opioids illegally, their employment is not protected, according to the EEOC. Even if the employee in question hasn’t had any performance or safety problems, employers can fire them.


If opioids are being used legally, however, that’s not the case. In fact, employees who “are using opioids, are addicted to opioids, or were addicted to opioids in the past but are not currently using drugs illegally” may be entitled to ADA accommodations.

An example of legal opioid use could be a worker who has long-term opioid prescriptions or who participates in a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program. Meanwhile, a reasonable accommodation for recovering opioid users might mean working around that worker’s MAT schedule. 

“A reasonable accommodation is some type of change in the way things are normally done at work, such as an altered break or work schedule, … a change in shift assignment or a temporary transfer to another position,” according to the EEOC guidance.  


Despite those protections, an employer may terminate a worker who is legally using opioids if the employee is unable to do the job safely and effectively. Additionally, an employer doesn’t have to lower performance standards, eliminate job duties, pay for work that isn’t done or excuse illegal drug use to accommodate opioid users.