The Second District holds that an employer lacks just cause to terminate an employee for refusing to stop taking prescription morphine, even if he does not ask the doctor for alternative treatments. Additionally, an employer may not justify reasons for a termination other than those actually used.
February 19, 2016
Sloan worked as a production manager where he ran a printing press and operated heavy machinery. After a fellow employee reported that Sloan had asked for a Vicodin, he was drug tested and showed positive. He admitted to taking Vicodin without a prescription due to chronic back pain. He later acknowledged that he was taking morphine with a prescription. When the employer made clear that Sloan could no longer work there while taking the medication, they parted ways though disputed whether he had been fired or resigned.
A hearing officer with the Review Commission concluded that Sloan was fired for taking morphine with a prescription and that, while the employer may have had a legitimate business reason for terminating him, it could not be said that there was sufficient fault on the part of Sloan to find just cause for the termination and hold him ineligible for benefits. After the employer appealed to a trial court, the Review Commission's decision was overturned. Sloan, therefore, brought this appeal.
The Second District reasoned that, "although Repacorp may have been entitled to discharge Sloan due to its safety concerns, the hearing officer could reasonably have concluded Sloan could not be blamed for having a medical condition that necessitated taking prescription morphine." The Second District rejected the employer's argument that Sloan was at fault for not double checking with his doctor regarding the need for the morphine and alternative treatments. It held that the prescription alone was sufficient evidence that the medication was medically necessary.
Although the employer attempted to raise other reasons for the termination, including failure to report that he was taking the morphine and asking for a Vicodin from a co-worker, the Second District reasoned that there was sufficient information in the record that Sloan's "refusal to stop taking prescription morphine was the only reason for his termination."
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