Employers can refuse to rehire recovered drug addicts or alcoholics who were dismissed for violating workplace rules, the Supreme Court said yesterday. The Los Angeles Times says the court called a “no-rehire policy” a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for rejecting a former drug user, even if federal law forbids job bias against people for their abuse of drugs or alcohol.
The unanimous ruling gives employers leeway to reject former employees with a troubled past. It does not settle the question of whether former drug addicts and alcoholics are entitled to equal treatment when they seek jobs with new employers.
The justices overturned a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion that employers violate the law whenever they “bar the reemployment of a drug addict [who had undergone] a successful rehabilitation.”
Business lawyers said the ruling was likely to encourage more companies to deny rehiring to all employees who leave for misconduct. A drug policy expert said the case did not free employers to reject new workers with histories of drug abuse. “The court did not use this case as an opportunity to shut the door to millions of people who are in recovery and are trying to enter the job market,” said Judith Appel, of the Drug Policy Alliance in Oakland.
The case involved Joel Hernandez, a Tucson missile plant technician. In 1991, his behavior at work suggested he might be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Hernandez took a drug test that came back positive for cocaine, and he was forced to resign.