Human Resources News & Insights

Court: Worker rightly fired, but company has to pay for his lawyer

Did this company win the war but lose a battle? The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that American Building Components (ABC) of Oskaloosa, Iowa, was well within its rights to fire employee Jerrie Sims after his urine tested positive for methamphetamine. However, the company has been ordered to pay the former employee’s legal fees.

ABC fired Sims on the day he tested positive when the company conducted a random drug screening.

A company manager told Sims later that day that he could pay for his own re-test. Sims said he couldn’t afford that, according to the Des Moines Register.

In his lawsuit, Sims claimed ABC hadn’t notified him in writing via certified mail that a retest was an option.

After the lawsuit was filed, the company sent a letter offering the re-test at its expense. Sims accepted, but tested positive again.

A trial judge ruled for the company, but said ABC had to pay Sims’ legal fees because it was slow to notify him of the available re-test, as required. The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the ruling.

While many companies have realized the value of random drug testing, this case shows employers have to “dot every i and cross every t” if they have such a program.

Does your company have a drug testing program? Let us know about it in the Comments Box below.

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  1. We do have such a policy- the first test is a urine test- if that tests comes back positive then there is an immediate hair follicle test administered- we have found a few false positives this way- generally the second test confirms the first and the employee is dismissed.

  2. I live and work in Iowa. Iowa state law is very specific on drug testing and the parameters that you have to follow. By not notifying the employee in a timely basis, they opened themselves up to that liability. The law requires that you notify them by certified mail of their positive results and the option to have the second specimen sent to a lab of their choice at their expense. The employee then has 7 days from the date of the letter to notify the company if they want to re-test. Every employer I’ve worked at has some type of drug testing program, but very few actually do random.

  3. Layla, you may want to revisit using a hair follicle test as a confirmation for a positive resulting from a urine analysis. Dependent on the drug, frequency of use and the donor’s ability to metabolize the drugs, a urine analysis is only going to identify short term drug use (days to weeks )and a hair follicle test typically is used to identify longer term drug use (weeks to months). Due to this difference between the tests, a hair follicle test is not recommended to be used as a confirmation for a positive urine analysis. If you are using a SAMSHA certified laboratory for the urine analysis it would be unlikely that you encountered a false positive but rather the hair follicle test couldn’t confirm the urine analysis because of the different time periods for it can test for.

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