Recently I've been prescribed a legal drug that is often screened for in drug tests. I've kept my boss informed but haven't mentioned any medications by name. I have a desk job, so I do not have to drive or operate heavy machinery at work.

I can be drug tested at any time. What is the best way to handle this? Do I just wait until I fail it then produce the prescription?

NOTE: It's NOT marijuana

  • 1
    What country are you in? The USA basically has no protection from a legal perspective on this for certain substances (such as medical marijuana) which means that you could be prescribed it and still fired for testing positive. – enderland Mar 12 '16 at 15:07
  • @enderland True. This 2015 article seems to cover the lack of legal protections quite well. – Lilienthal Mar 12 '16 at 15:11
  • @enderland Tagged US based on OP's other posts by the way. – Lilienthal Mar 12 '16 at 15:30
  • it would depend on the prescription as well, if it's methadone for instance then it's indicative of underlying issues which might not be great for your reputation. There is a bunch of other prescription drugs which would be a red flag to me if I was the employer. – Kilisi Mar 13 '16 at 2:56

First, I would ask your doctor how this normally works and if they have experience with other patients and drug tests. You will probably not be the only person who has had this question for them.

I would also keep copies of the official paperwork from your doctor regarding the prescription at your desk, so in the event you have to take the drug test you can provide that documentation.

It might seem nice to wait until you "fail" to produce the documentation, but realistically you don't want to be trying to prove your innocence after being "guilty" -- you want to avoid being guilty in the first place.

Especially since depending on where you live though you might be completely out of luck. In the USA you might want to talk to an employment lawyer - this and this, while not authoritative by any means, suggest that it might be complicated.


Ask your manager whether they'll accept the prescription before you start taking the drug. For some drugs your prescription may protect you from arrest but not from termination. In the US, medical marijuana specifically is in a legal grey area as it's still illegal at a federal level. Other drugs that do not suffer that complication may be covered under the "reasonable accommodation" clause of FMLA. But I'm not a lawyer and you'll want to avoid ever having to make this is a legal issue.

Check in with your manager or HR department whether they'll accept your use of the drug based on your prescription. Reasonable employers won't make a big deal about this if it won't affect your work. Get their approval in writing in case managers leave or are replaced.

If they say that they won't exempt you from their anti-drug policy, you'll have to look into your options with a legal professional.

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    IANAL, but wouldn't termination because of a legal treatment for a medical problem fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act? – jamesqf Mar 12 '16 at 18:48
  • As mentioned in my answered and the linked article, the issue for marijuana specifically is that it cannot be a recognised treatment option "because the drug remains illegal under federal law". It's an easy argument to make that allowing illegal drug use is not a reasonable accommodation for an employer. – Lilienthal Mar 12 '16 at 19:23
  • For other drugs, ones that are legal on a federal level, a company can actually be found liable for discharging an employee for a "failed" drug test if they have a legal prescription for the substance in question. Such medical conditions are generally protected under the ADA and the FMLA. It's why drug testing companies ask for a list of medications you're on when you go to take a drug test. But, yes, reasonable employers won't make a big deal about it in the first place. – HopelessN00b Mar 12 '16 at 19:48
  • @Lilienthal: The OP specifically states that the medicine in question is NOT marijuana. For the purpose of my comment, assume it's completely legal and a recognized treatment under all applicable laws. – jamesqf Mar 12 '16 at 21:38
  • @jamesqf Seems like HopelessN00b's comment answered that. While the typical drugs tested for probably won't have the same problem unless OP is following an unorthodox treatment, it makes sense to still warn the employer beforehand. (I brought this up in my answer for future readers and because I started writing before the edit.) – Lilienthal Mar 12 '16 at 23:16

Standard protocol for drug-testing in the US is to ask the testee for a list of all prescription and OTC drugs he is currently taking. If something comes back positive, and it is on the list you gave them, they may ask you about it. At that point, you show them the prescription bottle. If you DIDN'T tell them about the drug(s) before the test, you're going to be in a world of hurt.

I got tested several times while at Texas Instruments Defense Systems and Electronics. I was on several prescriptions at the time, one of them a serious (read: opiate) pain med. The tester was competent. She knew every drug on that list, and she knew their indications for use. Upon reading the list, she quietly suggested that I read up on FMLA, as asthma was specifically one of the conditions for which FMLA leave was authorized and the employer couldn't say a word about it. I had NOT told her I had asthma, I had NOT used my inhaler in front of her. She got it from the drug list.

Nothing was said about the opiate, and nothing was ever said about the test results. I have to assume they got a positive test for codeine, looked at the list, said "Yes, he told us about it, no problem."

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