On Ableism, Pee Tests and Automated Systems

About a month ago I got a job offer from retail company to work for 12-20 hours a week in customer service. I was excited for the offer. It’s a store where I love browsing. And I wanted a part time job where I can leave the house three days a week, if at all possible. During the interview, I learned shifts would be 4-6.5 hours. Perfect.

From the time I submitted the resume and cover letter online, it was only two days until the interview. Then two later I inteviewed in person (masked) at the Bloomington Store. Later that afternoon after the in person interview I received the verbal and written offer, contigent on a background check and and a drug screen.

Of course these checks were totally totally expected.

However, it made me nervous when I went into LabCorp a few days later to submit my pee sample. I asked the attendant about the prescription that I take for focus which typically triggers the “positive test” warning. The attendant reassured me: oh, there’s a database, they can look you up there. I frowned, because I’m pretty sure this is not true. But I didn’t want to rock the boat at this early stage.

Three other times over the last 15 years when I had to submit to pee tests for employment purposes, I received a call from the lab. I was able to give them a prescription number and a pharmacy name so they could verify. No problem. Verification done. Not an issue.

(Side note: my nurse practitioner collects labs annually, to verify I’m not giving my medicine to someone other than me. Fair enough. I get it. And since I do this during my wellness visit, it’s not inconvenient.)

This time around, it was strange because I heard nothing for a few weeks. I began to wonder so I reached out to the recruiter a few weeks in. She told me she hadn’t heard back yet about the background check (they typically run these for cash-handling positions, and I get that). Okay, let’s wait a week or two more.

Last week she called again to say she was escalating the request and she apologized for the delay. I know she’s got full time employees to prioritize. Someone who works only 12-20 hours a week is not their priority. And they know from my cover letter that I’m self-employed and want a part-time job in order to supplement income that can ebb and flow seasonally.

When I received an automated rejection notice informing me that, “At this time, the results of one or both of these do not meet the COMPANY hiring standards. Consequently, we will no longer be moving forward with your offer of employment.” (I am leaving the company unnamed here because I hope the recruiter might make things right.)

What?!? Seriously?!?

I asked for a copy of the report to see what it contained. The company was able to send the report within two hours by email, thankfully.

Criminal background check: completely blank. Drug screen: red. Flagged for my focus medicine, which I have been taking for 17 years. (Side note: today it’s a lower dose than it was in my 30’s, because I’ve figured out nutritional and exercise interventions to feed my brain better). I called the background company again and they gave me the phone number of the Medical Review Officer (MRO) so I could report the prescription.

This MRO/service person was extremely kind on the phone and when I explained what happened he noted that they didn’t receive my contact information from the lab submitting the sample to them. So they were unable to contact me in order to verify the prescription number or pharmacy. He took down my scrip number and pharmacy information and told me that he would report back to the screening company.

This morning I received an identical second email message rejecting me for not meeting the standards of unnamed retailer. I have to admit, the second rejection email stung even more than the first.

Seriously?!?

I have no other way of knowing if some other employment verification information got messed up or if it’s still rejected because of the red flag on the substance screen. Did a human even look at the updated record? I have no way to know. Since I don’t have a criminal record, there might be something else lurking that I don’t know. And the recruiter claims she was not told by the screening company what was in the record that was of concern. So perhaps there is nothing she can do.

I have other opportunities coming up to work on projects that are more “in my wheelhouse” in terms of coaching and mentoring young leaders for another organization that is more in line with my values. So I don’t plan to spend a lot of time fighting this issue. However, if this is happening to me, I know I’m not the first person with a “hidden disability” to have this issue. Some day I will make use of this story when I speak to companies about inclusive design. This feels like the opposite of that.

Be well, Amigos.

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