My great-grandmother, Ethel Reynolds Smith, died in a mental hospital. 

"These down moods were cyclical, coming and going at irregular intervals and varying in their strength and duration. In time they came with greater frequency and intensity, causing deep feelings of depression and fear that so disturbed Ethel that she was unable to perform her daily tasks."

"At other times her mind raced beyond control forcing her exhausted body to do more and more. Today, her condition would probably be diagnosed as a chemical imbalance. But in her day, they could only rely on prayer, priesthood blessings, and medical treatments that had no lasting relief. She died on August 26, 1937."

I think about her often, and how grateful she would have been for medication that worked. Medication that many of her descendants (including me) take on a regular basis. People who take medication for mental health conditions shouldn't start or stop these life-saving drugs without the advice of their doctors, but sometimes your company policies may encourage someone to stop. 

Why? The drug test.

I received an email from a reader who was looking for his first professional job. He wrote:

I am most concerned about testing positive for a prescription drug that treats a psychiatric condition. I have no idea what the disclosure procedures typically are, and disclosure of psychiatric conditions during pre-employment seems like a recipe for failure thanks to the stigma of mental illness. If I were to disclose, would I need to bring documentation ahead of time?

I'm also concerned that they may reject me for taking any drug flagged in a drug test, whether or not I have a legitimate prescription. I'm applying for a paperwork position so there are no safety risks that might be present in a lab or manufacturing facility. But I still don't want a particularly uninformed department or hiring manager giving me a suspicious side-eye and blaming any mistakes on my perceived "drug addiction". 

Now, why I'm not a huge fan of drug testing for desk jobs in general, companies absolutely have a right to declare a drug free workplace--even in states with legalized recreational marijuana. (For safety-oriented positions, you absolutely should have drug testing.) 

But, have you stopped to consider that your drug testing policies are encouraging people like my reader to stop taking his medication--medication his physician deemed necessary? So, let's change your policies and release forms to make it clear that you don't discriminate on the basis of mental illness (or physical illness, for that matter). 

1. Contract with a drug testing firm that protects your employees/job candidates' privacy. They should never, ever tell you what drug/medication someone tested positive for. It should be pass/fail with an appeal process by the employees. The hiring manager absolutely, positively should not be told anything until after the appeal process is completed.

2. Make sure that the drug testing company asks for prescription information BEFORE testing. Why? Because it alleviates anxiety for the candidate, and it prevents accidentally coding someone as failing a drug test. There's too much room for error if they wait until someone flunks and then ask for prescription information. And because that takes extra time, the HR person who ordered the test may be told, "We're just waiting on prescription information." Which just tells the HR person something she doesn't need to know.

3. Let the testing company know your standards for desk vs safety oriented jobs. There are definitely prescription medications that should not be used while driving a forklift but could be used while doing accounting. You should never reject a candidate for testing positive for a prescription medication that won't affect his actual job.

4. Let all candidates know that you are an ADA compliant firm, and that applies to mental illness as well.  They should be assured that prescription medications are treated properly. You literally have no idea what the medical history of the person sitting in front of you is. Tell everyone. Yes, technically they have to ask for ADA protection, but you know the law far better than the average candidate. Let them know up front.

You never want to be the reason someone goes off their medication. Prescriptions for mental health conditions can be just as life-saving as a prescription for physical conditions. Make sure your policies and practices don't make people nervous about their medication.

Published on: May 24, 2018
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