In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

Company's Urine Testing Leads to ADA Settlement

Covenant Transport, a trucking company in Tennessee, simply wanted to make sure that it maintained a drug-free workplace. So, like many other companies, it required new hires to pass a drug screening test. But its screening procedures required urine samples. When a medical condition kept one applicant from providing such a sample, the company simply turned him away, resulting in an EEOC lawsuit accusing Covenant of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Covenant's urine-based ADA troubles are a helpful reminder of the importance of making reasonable accommodations. But such accommodations might not be limited to just those with serious medical issues -- even applicants with "shy bladders" may merit similar treatment, according to one attorney.

Urine Trouble

Covenant's drug-testing difficulties arose after a jobseeker applied to be a commercial truck driver with the company. Covenant approved the application, on the condition that the driver pass a license check and drug test. The candidate informed the company that, because of a medical condition known as bladder exstrophy, he couldn't provide the required urine sample, but he would be willing to give a blood sample. Covenant decided not the hire the driver.

That refusal led to an EEOC complaint and, eventually, a lawsuit against the company. The ADA prohibits employment discrimination against those with disabilities and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for such disabilities. In terms of drug testing, both blood screening and hair sample testing have been upheld as reasonable accommodations.

Covenant settled two weeks ago, agreeing to pay out $30,000 and institute changes to its drug testing policy.

Accommodating Those With Performance Anxiety

But the accommodations sought in this case might not be limited to those with serious medical conditions like bladder exstrophy. According to Richard B. Cohen, an employment lawyer and partner at FisherBroyles, it's possible that conditions such as "shy bladder" could require accommodations.

"Shy bladder" is a condition that can make it difficult to urinate on command -- so-called "performance anxiety." The more technical term is paruresis, defined as "the inability or difficulty to urinate in the presence of other people, when under time pressure, or on vehicles such as trains or airplanes."

It's unclear whether paruresis would count as an ADA disability, Cohen writes. The EEOC even addressed the question of paruresis in an informal opinion letter in 2011, "but came to no definitive or clear conclusion." Still, Cohen explains, the condition is "classified as an anxiety disorder" and "some medical personnel consider that sufficient to be deemed a disability."

So, for employers looking to stay on the right side of the ADA, when it comes to drug testing, consider offering alternatives to peeing in a cup. Those alternatives, Cohen notes, are "cheap and easy," not to mention a simple way to "ease the anxiety of the applicant".

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