Ninth Circuit Finds Employer Not Required to Reimburse Workers for Drug Screen Travel

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit found that in the case of Johnson v. WinCo Foods, the employer is not required to compensate applicants for the time and expense of taking a drug test.

In 2017, named plaintiff Alfred Johnson sued WinCo, a supermarket chain with over 100 locations across the western United States, demanding compensation for the time and expenses required to attend a drug screening appointment as a condition of employment.

In March 2020, the district court granted Johnson's bid for class certification and over 14,000 workers joined in the class action lawsuit.

The plaintiff claimed that since WinCo controlled where, when, and how the new hires were tested for drugs as a condition of employment, they were acting as an employer exercising control over an employee.

The court ruled that since the pre-employment drug testing was a condition for becoming an employee, the class members were not considered employees until they satisfied the employer's drug testing requirements. As a result, the alleged violations of the California Labor Code relating to the payment of business-related expenses did not apply to these members.

This ruling follows in the vein of previous cases where district courts have also ruled in favor of the employer. Employers are encouraged to review their policies to ensure they comply with local and federal labor codes relating to whether a contract of employment is created before or after a condition such as drug testing is satisfied.

Posted: June 15, 2022

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