I’m on Rx, You’re on Rx, We’re ALL on Rx!

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Doctors don’t (ideally) hand out pills willy-nilly.  99 times out of 100, if a doctor prescribes you medication, it’s because she really believes it will improve your health.  Following their instructions is a prudent thing to do and has nothing to do with your job, right?  You can’t be fired for that, can you?  That’s crazy talk!  That seems like such a patently obvious thing to me that to even write about it seems superfluous.  And yet…check out this great eye-opening blog post from Michelle Bowman (@michelebow)!

http://blogs.lawyers.com/2013/01/cant-fire-for-rx-medication/

I didn’t post that for my health, really.  Please open in another window or tab and read it.  I’ll wait.  It’s not long.  I’ll even give you a few extra seconds to roll your eyes back to their normal position because no doubt they’ll be oriented in another direction after you read it.

A particular point of crazy that stands out to me: “…Dura Automotive Systems required employees who tested positive for legally prescribed medications to disclose the medical conditions for which they were taking prescription medications. Dura also said employees could only keep their jobs if they stopped taking their meds.”  The first case Bowman mentions, at the masonry company, was about a woman taking medication for a bipolar disorder.  Let’s assume there were people taking similar medications at this automotive company.  So first they fail a drug test, then have to reveal a very personal illness, and then have to stop taking the medication for the illness…invalidating the reason for disclosing it in the first place!

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Plus, it is DANGEROUS for people with mental illness (and I assume other illnesses) to abruptly stop their medications.  They can have terrible withdrawal symptoms, become suicidal or, yes, even homicidal.  I’d rather risk any potential workplace safety issues of someone ON their medications, thank you very much.

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Think about that.  Sometime, somewhere, in the offices at Dura Automotive, there was a meeting.  And it was decided that these automotive experts knew better than doctors about their employees’ health.  Huh.  I guess that settles it.  Next time I have a sore throat, I’m going to Auto Zone!

Now, clearly, I understand that a neurosurgeon, a crane-operator, a fireman, and a school bus driver do not need to be taking Vicodin, prescribed or not, while at work.  No one is arguing with that.  If medication would truly interfere with your job, maybe HR needs to take that into account and initiate some FMLA?  Maybe light duty for a few days?  Maybe the employee can ask their doctor if something else would be equally effective?  Maybe (if it won’t affect performance) the employee can take minimal doses before/during work and then resume a normal dose at home?  There are a myriad of things I would consider here instead of terminating someone’s employment because they were taking medication that a doctor recommended!

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It just so happens that I had a serious neck injury almost 2 years ago that caused extensive nerve damage.  For 2 months, it felt like I had one arm in the electric chair.  I eventually required surgery but in the 7 weeks between the injury and the operation, a high dose of Lortab was all that got me through the day.  My boss at the time was wonderful and I considered her a friend.  I told her immediately about the medication and that if I happened to require a random drug test during that time, I definitely wouldn’t pass.  In the beginning, I was also afraid the medication would make me goofy or that I would become addicted since I knew I’d be on it a while.  I also told her my fears about this and asked her to keep a look out in case I started acting differently and told her that I might be asking her to check over my work a little more frequently.  She was happy to do so, wanting me to be safe and also for our work not to suffer.  Everything turned out fine: neck is perfect again, no addiction, and to my knowledge I did not make any huge mistakes at the office.  Still, it was a blessing to be able to communicate so openly with her and work together to ensure a positive outcome for both myself and the company.  I wish more employers and employees had that level of communication.  It really was a godsend.

Again, I’m still learning some of the more technical aspects of HR.  I’m not an expert on FMLA or HIPAA, and I’m certainly not a doctor or lawyer.  Do you have a different take?  What would you recommend if an employee’s medication possibly interfered with their work?

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7 thoughts on “I’m on Rx, You’re on Rx, We’re ALL on Rx!

  1. HR Gal Friday Post author

    I’ve been advised since originally posting this that revealing specifics about health disorders and medications to an employer can turn out badly. My wonderful boss and I have both moved on from those positions since then, and I can’t imagine I’ll ever have a boss I trust that much again. I’ll definitely be less open about such things in the future!

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  2. Kristy

    We have a policy (and a form) that requires EEs disclose that they are on medication that may impair their faculties, but we do not ask what medication or what it’s for.

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  3. HR Gal Friday Post author

    That makes sense though, because your employees are in-home caretakers who are required to drive themselves around and occasionally clients, yes? I’d put that up there with bus drivers. I know of no antidepressants or bipolar medications that “impair faculties” though. I mean, there are anxiety drugs that make you sleepy but that’s why they’re typically taken before one goes to sleep. I just think this whole situation is strange. Then again, I own my crazy and share it with everyone, so I guess I have a different outlook than most.

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  4. Jen

    I find it very strange as well- antidepressants and bipolar medications should not prevent anyone from performing his/her job. Forcing them to go off of these medications, though, could make it extremely difficult for them to perform their jobs.

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    1. HR Gal Friday Post author

      I actually know of someone, through a friend, who was forced off his medication and then killed a family member. The whole story is so tragic and senseless, esp since a 3rd party was to blame. A lot of it comes from the stigma of mental illness, I believe. If I told you I had a brain tumor, you’d never tell me to stop taking medication. But if I tell you I’m depressed, it’s just all in my head. Well yeah, but that doesn’t mean it’s imaginary. My brain doesn’t make chemicals the way yours does. Big deal. Some people are diabetic; I’m crazy. We all have our cross to bear. I can’t get over the idea of an automotive company forcing people to reveal personal medical info and stop taking their meds. The liability if that person became injured or hurt someone else is unreal. And not even in the “went crazy and hurt someone deliberately” sense. One of the meds I’m taking, when I wean down to a lower dosage as I’m doing right now, there is a small risk of seizure. I would imagine that stopping abruptly would up that risk. What if I had that seizure while driving a forklift or driving to visit a client? That doesn’t seem totally uncommon for an automotive company. I’m glad they were penalized, I just can’t believe this lack of common sense exists in the first place.

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  5. HR Organizer

    It is really appalling that there is still so much stigma surrounding mental illness, especially considering that 1/4 people will experience clinical levels of anxiety or depression at some point in their lives. People who have sought treatment are often fully-functioning individuals. Taking away their medication, like you said, could change that and it could have very serious consequences. I don’t understand how anyone could have thought that policy was a good idea.

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    1. HR Gal Friday Post author

      RIGHT?! Can you just imagine being a fly on the wall in that meeting?? Ugh.

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