Search form

Iowa Amends Tough Drug Testing Law to Lower Standard for Positive Alcohol Tests

By Kathryn J. Russo and Catherine A. Cano
  • April 24, 2018

Beginning July 1, 2018, private employers in Iowa may take action based on an employee’s alcohol test result of .02 grams of alcohol per two hundred ten liters of breath. The lower standard was enacted under a 2018 amendment to the Iowa drug testing law (Iowa Code Section 730.5). Prior to the amendment, employers could not take action for alcohol test results below .04 Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC).

In addition, the law was amended effective July 1, 2017, to permit hair follicle testing only for pre-employment drug testing purposes. Prior to the passage of this amendment, Iowa allowed only private sector testing for drugs through urine, blood, and oral fluid.

Iowa’s 30-year-old drug testing statute is considered one of the most difficult laws in the country for employer compliance. It contains specific and detailed drug testing procedures and safeguards that, if not carefully followed, limits employers’ ability to legally discipline or fire an employee based upon a drug or alcohol test. The Iowa law includes provisions on permissible types of tests, written notice requirements, rehabilitation for positive alcohol test results, split-specimen testing, and mandatory supervisor training, among other things. Available remedies under the statute include reinstatement, back pay, and equitable relief such as attorneys’ fees.

Employers easily can violate the technical aspects of the law. For example, in 2012, the Iowa Court of Appeals held that an employer violated the statute when it provided an employee with a hand-delivered notice of her positive test results instead of sending it by certified mail, as required by the statute. See Skipton v. S&J Tube, Inc., 822 N.W.2d 122 (Iowa Ct. App. 2012). The notice also omitted the cost of a confirmatory re-test.

Lawsuits on the Rise

Since October 2017, at least five new lawsuits have been filed alleging violations of the Iowa drug testing law.

Some of these lawsuits have alleged claims for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, based on the alleged violation of the drug testing statute. This is significant because the Iowa Supreme Court has held that punitive damages may be awarded in wrongful discharge cases. See Jasper v. H. Nizam, Inc., 764 N.W.2d 751 (Iowa 2009). At least some courts have been receptive to this argument in the drug testing context. In a case before the Iowa District Court for Delaware County, the employer conceded violating the drug testing statute but argued that the drug testing statute was the exclusive remedy. The court disagreed and granted summary judgment to the plaintiff on her wrongful discharge claim. See Ferguson v. Sanders, et al., No. LACV008271 (Jan. 17, 2018). A jury later awarded the plaintiff $57,606 in damages, including $12,000 in pain and suffering.

Next Steps

Employers that conduct drug testing in Iowa should ensure their policy complies with the amended law. They also should consider consulting with counsel before taking adverse employment actions based on drug or alcohol test results.

Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to answer inquiries regarding the Iowa statute and assist employers in achieving compliance with its requirements.

©2018 Jackson Lewis P.C. This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between Jackson Lewis and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material. This material may be considered attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Reproduction of this material in whole or in part is prohibited without the express prior written consent of Jackson Lewis P.C., a law firm with more than 900 attorneys in major cities nationwide serving clients across a wide range of practices and industries. Having built its reputation on providing premier workplace law representation to management, the firm has grown to include leading practices in the areas of government relations, healthcare and sports law. For more information, visit www.jacksonlewis.com.

See AllRelated Articles You May Like

March 18, 2019

New York City Releases Model Policies for Lactation Room Law

March 18, 2019

The New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) has released model policies for the City’s lactation room law, effective March 18, 2019. The CCHR’s dedicated lactation accommodations page contains model policies for: 1) Workplaces with Dedicated Lactation Room(s); 2) Workplaces with Multi-Purpose Space; and 3) Workplaces... Read More

March 14, 2019

New Jersey Expands State Leave Laws

March 14, 2019

New Jersey has enacted an omnibus law that expands significantly protections and benefits for employees under the state’s laws providing unpaid family leave, domestic or sexual violence safety leave, and temporary paid family leave insurance. Prior to the law’s passage, the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA) required employers with... Read More

February 28, 2019

Portland, Oregon, Bars Discrimination Against Atheists, Agnostics

February 28, 2019

An amendment to the civil rights code of Portland, Oregon, extends protections against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations to atheists, agnostics, and other “non-believers.” Religious facilities are expressly exempt. The Portland City Code, chapter 23.01, already prohibits discrimination on the basis of... Read More