Bad drug testing advice from DWD

The Department of Workforce Development has another newsletter for employers (here is a link to a PDF version). Understandable, the Department lets employers know about the deep decline in unemployment taxes for employers the last few years, pushes its new on-line portal for employers, publicizes the upcoming public hearing, and other employer-centric issues.

Surprisingly, the Department also states:

Pre-Employment Drug Testing Program Helps Strengthen Wisconsin’s Workforce

With a record low unemployment rate, the prevalence of substance abuse is a growing problem for employers who are already struggling to find qualified workers. As part of DWD’s commitment to ensuring no talent is left on the sidelines, the Department’s Pre-Employment Drug Testing Program is a way employers can help grow Wisconsin’s pool of work-ready job seekers while fostering a drug free workplace within their business.

Provisions included in the UIAC agreed-upon bill, effective April 1, 2018 provide that an employer that submits the results of a positive test or notifies DWD of an individual’s refusal to take a pre-employment drug test is immune from state civil liability for its acts or omissions with respect to the submission of the reported information (Wis. Stat. § 108.133(4)(c)). Go to https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/ui/pre_employment_drug_testing to find additional information, forms, and resources on how to participate in the program.

This advice is plain silly and borderline malpractice. Immunity from civil liability in state law is basically meaningless in the area of medical privacy law. Almost any and every law suit a person might file will be based on federal laws that protect an individual’s medical privacy. Obviously, federal law against disability discrimination may apply in these situations. While HIPAA does not cover employers, it does cover health care providers and all of the entities that contract with those providers, including drug-testing labs. Moreover, a self-insured employer who has an ERISA plan (which pretty much covers all large employers in the state) will mean that employer liability can probably ONLY occur through an action based on federal law. Finally, an employer who fails to follow federal drug-testing requirements will most-likely open themselves up to liability and even bars against future contracts for federal work.

In other words, state law has limited relevance here, and so an immunization from civil liability in state law simply does not mean all that much. Any employer that thinks otherwise is being misled. In actuality, no matter what might be said in state law, an employer essentially has NO immunity from a law suit alleging an invasion of medical privacy at the federal level.

NOTE: drug tests of employees or potential hires are usually NOT an invasion of medical privacy because of federal laws that allow such testing or waivers that the employees sign as part of their employment contract. The problem with reporting failed drug tests of applicants, however, is that neither probably applies. After all, an applicant is not yet an employee and has received nothing of consequence accept a contingent offer of employment.

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