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EEOC sues on behalf of recuperating drug addict

The body of U.S. employment law was drafted with an eye towards protecting employees. Jobs are vital to everyone's well-being, of course, and our society would suffer if people were dismissed capriciously or for taking steps like reporting harassment.

As is the case in other areas of law, though, sometimes situations arise that give one pause. One such circumstance recently arose in Raleigh, North Carolina. There, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing an insurance office for refusing to hire a recuperating drug addict who recently tested positive for  methadone.

The EEOC claims the insurance office violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it rescinded a job offer it had already made after learning that the prospective employee was enrolled in a drug treatment program. Recovering from an addiction is considered a disability within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The man was provisionally hired as an insurance agent in December 2009 and was told that his hiring was contingent on his passing a drug test. He failed the test because he had methadone in his system, but the methadone was present because he was using it as part of a supervised drug recovery program. Some addicts use methadone because it blunts the craving for drugs that are more dangerous and powerful, like heroin and other opiates.

The insurance office did not return a reporter's calls seeking comment. The prospective employee did not comment on the matter either, but it is known that he has a wife and child and is now delivering pizzas to make ends meet.

On one hand, this man can never move past his addiction and become a contributing member of society if every employer rejects him because of his past. On the other, it is understandable that a company that works with sensitive information, like an insurance agency, would be nervous about having a former drug addict on its staff.

What do you think? If you had worked at the insurance office, would you have rescinded the man's offer? Why or why not?

Source: The News and Observer, "Refusal to hire an addict brings a lawsuit," John Murawski, Aug. 17, 2011.

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