Why it matters

In a deal with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Volvo agreed to pay $70,000 plus equitable relief after the agency accused the carmaker of rejecting an applicant because he was a recovering drug addict enrolled in a medication-assisted treatment program. A qualified applicant received a conditional job offer to work at Volvo’s Hagerstown, MD, facility. During his post-offer physical exam, he explained that he was taking Suboxone as part of a supervised treatment program as a recovering drug addict. When the applicant reported for his first day of work, Volvo told him he couldn’t be hired because of his Suboxone use. The EEOC filed suit. Volvo should have conducted an individualized assessment to determine what effect, if any, the Suboxone would have on the applicant’s ability to perform the job, the agency said, and the failure to do so violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To settle the suit, Volvo agreed to pay the applicant $70,000. The employer also promised to avoid future violations of the statute, amend its policy on post-offer medical and drug evaluations, and provide additional ADA training to its employees.

Detailed discussion

An individual applied for an hourly manufacturing position at the Hagerstown, MD, Volvo facility in October 2014. After an interview, the applicant was offered a job with a Feb. 9, 2015, start date, contingent upon his successful completion of a post-offer, pre-employment physical exam, drug screen, and background check.

During his exam, the applicant disclosed to a nurse that he was taking Suboxone as part of a medication-assisted treatment program as a recovering drug addict. When he reported for his first day of work, the applicant was informed that Volvo was unable to hire him due to his use of Suboxone.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit on the applicant’s behalf, asserting the carmaker violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Instead of flatly rejecting the applicant based on his Suboxone use, the employer should have conducted an individualized assessment to determine what effect, if any, the Suboxone had on the applicant’s ability to perform the job, the EEOC said.

Had Volvo looked closer, it would have discovered the applicant had been enrolled in the program since at least 2010, the agency said, undergoing monthly counseling and urine testing to prevent relapse into dependence on opioids and heroin. During this time, he worked as a dockworker and a sanitation worker without incident. At all relevant times, the applicant was qualified to perform the essential functions of the position at Volvo, the EEOC said.

To settle the charges, Volvo agreed to provide $70,000 in monetary relief to the applicant.

In addition, the carmaker entered a three-year consent decree prohibiting future violations of the ADA. The company will amend its policy on post-offer medical and drug evaluations to explain how it will assess whether an employee’s or applicant’s lawful use of prescription medication poses a direct threat as defined by the ADA, including providing a reasonable accommodation as required by the statute.

Volvo will distribute to its Hagerstown workers an ADA policy that explains the right to a reasonable accommodation for a disability unless it would pose an undue hardship and will provide additional ADA training—with time spent on how the law relates to drug screening and the use of lawfully prescribed medications—to its employees.

“Employers should make hiring decisions based on the qualifications of an applicant, not his disability or participation in a medically supervised treatment program,” EEOC Philadelphia District Office Director Jamie R. Williamson said in a statement about the action.

To read the consent decree in EEOC v. Volvo Group North America, LLC, click here.