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This month the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a memorandum which seeks to clarify the extent to which OSHA will consider post-accident drug and alcohol testing to be a violation of federal regulations.
The memorandum addresses questions that have arisen about a rule that OSHA published in May. That rule, theElectronic Recordkeeping Rule, prohibits retaliation against employees who report workplace injuries and illnesses. In comments to that rule OSHA previously stated that the rule “does prohibit employers from using drug testing (or the threat of drug testing) as a form of adverse action against employees who report injuries or illnesses.” Those comments ignited a firestorm, and since then there has been debate as to whether all post-accident drug or alcohol testing is now prohibited.
In the new memorandum, dated October 19, 2016, OSHA’s answer to that question is “no.” It explains that the rule does not prohibit employers from drug testing employees who report work-related injuries “so long as they have an objectively reasonable basis for testing.” According to OSHA, when assessing whether the basis for testing is objectively reasonable, “the central inquiry will be whether the employer had a reasonable basis for believing that drug use by the reporting employee could have contributed to the injury.” If so, says OSHA, it would be objectively reasonable to subject the employee to a drug test. Conversely, says OSHA, “drug testing an employee whose injury could not possibly have been caused by drug use would likely violate” the rule.
Enforcement of the rule originally was scheduled to begin in August 2016 but OSHA has delayed it to December 1, 2016.