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Iowa Appeals Court Clarifies Drug Testing Law

By Frank Harty

Iowa private sector employers who are not covered by federal drug testing requirements are nonetheless required to comply with Iowa drug testing law when testing employees and applicants.  Iowa's law allows an employer, who has an otherwise compliant comprehensive drug testing policy, to test employees who are involved in a workplace accident.

Iowa Code section 730.5(8)(f) provides: 

Employers may conduct drug or alcohol testing in investigating accidents in the workplace in which the accident resulted in an injury to a person for which injury, if suffered by an employee, a record or report could be required under Chapter 88, or resulted in damage to property, including to equipment, in an amount reasonably estimated at the time of the accident to exceed $1,000.

In Skipton v. S & J Tube, Inc., the Iowa employer routinely tested all employees when they reported an accident or an injury that resulted in a worker's compensation occurrence.  The Plaintiff in Skipton tested positive for cocaine after reporting problems with carpal tunnel syndrome.  The Iowa Court of Appeals held that the employee should not have been tested because Iowa's law only allows testing following workplace accidents resulting in injury.  The Court noted that the term "accident" has been defined as a "sudden event or change occurring without intent or volition through carelessness, unawareness, ignorance or a combination of causes and producing an unfortunate result."   At page 11, the Court went on to hold that a cumulative injury that is not a sudden event is not an "accident" for purposes of Iowa's drug testing law.  The Court also held that where treatment is required following a report of a repetitive motion ailment, it does not constitute an "injury" for purposes of Iowa's drug testing law.

Skipton is noteworthy because it provides some direction to employers regarding acceptable post-accident testing situations. While this ruling may not be the final word in Iowa, employers should take heed and evaluate whether they need to take a more conservative approach to post-accident testing.



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