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Idaho: Private Employer Drug-Free Act Does Not Give Employees Right to Sue

By Susan R. Heylman  8/5/2013
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The Idaho Private Employer Alcohol and Drug-Free Workplace Act, which establishes drug and alcohol testing guidelines for employers and sets out detailed provisions for the taking of samples and testing, does not give employees a private remedy against the employer for an adverse employment action, the U.S. District Court  for Idaho ruled. Anderson v. Thompson Creek Mining Co., D. Idaho, No. 4:11-CV-639-BLW (May 2, 2013).

The employee in the case was fired following a positive drug test. He filed suit, claiming that the employer’s drug testing procedures and its decision to fire him based on the results of those procedures violated his rights under the act. He alleged that the act implied a private right of action for an employee fired for a positive drug test when the employer failed to follow the provisions of the act in conducting the test.

Because no Idaho court had addressed this issue, the federal court first reviewed the language of the statute. It noted that compliance with the act was voluntary by its very terms. “The plain wording of the Act shows that the Idaho Legislature was promoting rather than mandating compliance,” the court said. For example, to promote compliance, the act offered four principal benefits to employers who followed its provisions: savings in unemployment taxes, savings in workers’ compensation insurance premiums, protection from lawsuits, and eligibility to contract for state construction projects.  

Even though the act showed the legislature’s intent to protect the rights of employees, the court said, the protection was not established by making the act mandatory but rather by granting benefits to employers to motivate them to voluntarily confer certain rights on employees.

“To read an implied right of action into the act would be to impose a mandatory duty on employers to comply with its terms,” the court said. It refused to rewrite the statute in that manner.

The court concluded that, if faced with the issue, the Idaho Supreme Court would rule that there was no implied right of action in the act. It dismissed the employee’s complaint as a matter of law. 

Susan R. Heylman, J.D., is a freelance legal writer and editor based in the Washington, D.C., area.

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