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Iowa Supreme Court Decisions Provide Employers with Drug and Alcohol Testing Guidance

Two recent decisions discuss Iowa's statue governing drug and alcohol testing - Iowa Code Section 730.5 - as it applies to employers.

Private Iowa employers are expected to comply with Section 730.5 when conducting drug and alcohol testing. Section 730.5 imposes several detailed requirements such as testing procedures and written drug and alcohol testing policies, as well as limitations for unannounced drug testing. Iowa Code Section 730.5 may be accessed here.

The Iowa Supreme Court recently decided two cases that provide further guidance on how employers should comply with Section 730.5.

In the first case, Dix v. Casey's General Stores, Inc., the Court addressed the employer's Drug and Alcohol Testing Policy that allowed for unannounced random drug testing for safety sensitive positions. The employer took the position that all jobs in a particular warehouse were "safety-sensitive" and, therefore, subject to unannounced random drug testing. As a result, the employer ended up terminating a group of employees who tested positive for marijuana. The employees alleged that the employer violated Section 730.5.

In addressing the claims, the Court ultimately determined that Section 730.5 requires substantial compliance. An employer shall be compliant as long as it accomplishes the "important objectives expressed by the particular part of Section 730.5 in issue." Here, the question was whether the employer substantially complied with 730.5(8) that permits unannounced, random drug testing for those in a "safety-sensitive position" as defined by subsection (8)(a)(3). The court held that the employer failed to substantially comply with the statute by classifying the entire warehouse as safety sensitive; all of the warehouse positions did not fit into the section 730.5(8) definition of "safety-sensitive position." Instead of classifying based on the job functions, the employer "focused on the environment in which [the] job [was] performed."

The second case, Woods v. Charles Gabus Ford, accompanies the above case and further addresses the substantial compliance standard under a different provision of Section 730.5. Here, an employer terminated an employee who tested positive for methamphetamine after a random drug test. The Court addressed whether the employer substantially complied with section 730.5(7)(j)(1) notice requirements. The employee argued that the employer did not comply because the employer (1) failed to include the specific cost of a retest in the letter and (2) failed to send the letter return receipt requested.

Under the first claim, the Court held that the employer did not substantially comply after failing to include the cost of a retest. The statute requires the employer to provide such information in a notice and, in order to comply, the information "must be consistent with the employer's cost" for a confirmatory test. Without this information, a person does not have "a meaningful opportunity to consider whether to undertake a confirmatory test."

Under the second claim, the Court held that the employer substantially complied even though it did not send the return receipt requested. The statute only requires the employer to convey the importance of the message sent, which the employer successfully did.

Employers are advised to review both Iowa Supreme Court decisions with counsel to ensure they are compliant with Iowa Code Section 730.5.

Posted: July 14, 2021


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