Can you fire an employee in Tennessee for drug or alcohol use?

Can you fire an employee in Tennessee for drug or alcohol use? As with most legal questions, it depends. Below is the specific Tennessee law relating to the firing or failing to hire based on a drug test result. In order to discharge or discipline an employee, your drug and alcohol testing procedures must comply with this section of the Tennessee law. You should review your company’s policies and procedures with a licensed Tennessee attorney to review the compliance with this and other important Tennessee laws.

T.C.A. § 50-9-108.  Drug or alcohol use not a disability — Drug or alcohol use “cause” for firing or failure to hire — Miscellaneous provisions. 

(a) An employee or job applicant whose drug or alcohol test result is confirmed as positive in accordance with this section shall not, by virtue of the result alone, be deemed to have a disability as defined under federal, state or local disability discrimination laws.

(b) A covered employer who discharges or disciplines an employee or refuses to hire a job applicant in compliance with this section is considered to have discharged, disciplined or refused to hire for cause.

(c) No physician-patient relationship is created between an employee or job applicant and a covered employer or any person performing or evaluating a drug or alcohol test, solely by the establishment, implementation or administration of a drug or alcohol testing program. This section in no way relieves the person performing the test from responsibility for acts of negligence in performing the tests.

(d) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent a covered employer from establishing reasonable work rules related to employee possession, use, sale or solicitation of drugs or alcohol, including convictions for offenses relating to drugs or alcohol, and taking action based upon a violation of any of those rules.

(e) This section does not operate retroactively, and does not abrogate the right of an employer under state law to lawfully conduct drug or alcohol tests, or implement lawful employee drug-testing programs. This chapter shall not prohibit an employer from conducting any drug or alcohol testing of employees that is otherwise permitted by law.

(f) If an employee or job applicant refuses to submit to a drug or alcohol test, the covered employer is not barred from discharging or disciplining the employee or from refusing to hire the job applicant; however, this subsection (f) does not abrogate the rights and remedies of the employee or job applicant as otherwise provided in this section.

(g) This section does not prohibit an employer from conducting medical screening or other tests required, permitted or not disallowed by any statute, rule or regulation for the purpose of monitoring exposure of employees to toxic or other unhealthy substances in the workplace or in the performance of job responsibilities. The screening or testing is limited to the specific substances expressly identified in the applicable statute, rule or regulation, unless prior written consent of the employee is obtained for other tests. The screening or testing need not be in compliance with the rules adopted by the department of labor and workforce development and department of health. If applicable, the drug or alcohol testing must be specified in a collective bargaining agreement as negotiated by the appropriate certified bargaining agent before the testing is implemented.

(h) No cause of action shall arise in favor of any person based upon the failure of an employer to establish a program or policy for drug or alcohol testing.

HISTORY: Acts 1996, ch. 944, § 50; 1997, ch. 533, § 44; 1999, ch. 520, § 41; 2011, ch. 47, § 53.