My dreams of being a creative for a living were temporarily dead. It was official in my mind; I was completely finished. I had been fired from my job at a local news company in Chicago after differences with the owner, and was officially a free agent. I knew I didn’t have much time before the bills would start piling up; I immediately started working random video jobs.
The gigs stopped coming in months ago. Even Craigslist, which usually could offer some quick low pay stuff, was completely dry. So, I went for an interview at a local factory, trying to get back into the world of steady work. I chose factory work because it was the only recent work experience I’ve had outside of working in the news and military. Also, I knew the work would be steady and constant, providing some much needed financial relief.
It was a little worrisome when the interview began. My factory experience was a decade old, but after a couple rounds of interviews, and some basic aptitude tests, Freedman Seating Company offered me a job on the spot. The guy doing the interview informed me that he wished there were more candidates like me, and even offered me a higher paying position that was previously unknown. Taking the offer, Freedman Seating gave me a shift and told me to be in on Monday.
To say the least, things were going well. Ten years gone from the manufacturing industry, and still able to wow a factory company. As I was leaving the building, still celebrating the new job in my head, a lady I had talked to earlier from human resources ran up to me, holding a loose piece of paper. She said that I would need to take a drug test within 48 hours, or I would have to forfeit my position. My heart sank for a moment as I not only completely forgot about this requirement, but was taking prescription medications, including medical cannabis, which would show up. Wanting to conceal this information, I figured it might disqualify me from the job, but I figured I would take the high road and be honest with Freedman Seating. I informed the human resources person that I was on some prescriptions that might show up on the test. She lightly chuckled and told me I had nothing to worry about; I had to show my prescriptions to the doctor at the test site for confirmation.
Confidence was completely restored until I got to the drug test place fifteen minutes later. The drug testing facility, Physicians Immediate Care, was a complete mad house. The waiting room was packed with people, smelling like a freshly pissed train car. An older business woman was arguing with the front desk staff, ending her exchange by shouting “this is ridiculous,” before sitting down. I came up to the desk with my medical records in hand. The desk worker asked for my identification, snatching it out of my hand, and telling me to take a seat. I asked if she needed my medical records, and she dismissively replied, “take a seat, tell the person getting the sample.”
After a 30-minute wait, my name was called, and I was directed into a small bathroom area. A young woman in scrubs came in right behind me, and started rehearsing the “specimen collection process.” When she finally finished her speech, I told her I was on some prescription medications that would probably show up, and that I had I my medical record with my doctor’s notes and prescriptions. In a passive aggressive tone, she quickly replied, “put those away, we don’t take medical records at this facility.” Explaining to her again that I had prescriptions that would show up, I said that the drug test for a recent job offer could be compromised. “If anything comes up, a Medical Review Officer will contact you to confirm your prescriptions,” she replied. She then told me I would hear from Physicians Immediate Care within two days, and to “camp my phone;” they would be calling one time and won’t leave a message.
Not leaving a voicemail in this situation seemed strange since I signed a medical release form saying that staff could leave messages with sensitive medical information on my phone. However, I put my suspicions aside in the interest of time. Did as instructed and camped my phone all weekend, never getting a call from any lab technician or MRO.
Monday rolled around, and I was ready to start my new-old factory career. The night before, I took some of the last money I had and bought new steel-toed boots, hoping to kick things off right on my first day. Showing up to my shift bright and early, my first day seemingly started. Freedman Seating took my photo for my employee identification, and started me on a load of entry forms and paperwork. After an hour, the same human resources lady from before the drug test pulled me aside from the other new hires, telling me that I could not start officially working because my drug test results came back “inconclusive.”
Again, I explained to her that I had prescriptions that might be delaying the test results. “Did they ever get your medical record?” she asked. “No, never got a call,” I said. “Camped the phone all weekend to be sure.”
She told me that I would be able to start on Wednesday as long as the results were conclusive. I left angry; I thought I would be putting in some hours toward the bills. Immediately, I called Physicians Immediate Care to contact the MRO. After waiting on hold and talking to three different people, the staff informed me that the MRO was not available and that the results were not back from the lab based in Colorado. Explaining that Freedman Seating told me the results were inconclusive, she aggressively claimed the employer was “lying,” and that the results weren’t in yet. She told me to call back on Tuesday if I didn’t hear anything from the MRO by the end of the day.
Surprise, surprise, I didn’t hear back from anyone; I called PIC back on Tuesday morning. The woman answering the phone told me they had no record of me as a patient at that location with my social security number. Luckily, I kept the receipt for the sample I provided, and after another twenty minutes on hold, the woman informed me that I tested positive for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC); the MRO would be in contact before reporting the result to Freedman Seating.
The MRO never contacted me. Instead, I was contacted by another staff member who explained that they already reported the results to my employer, and that I would have to show Freedman Seating my medical record. The employer would have to use its discretion on the matter.
How is that not a breach of patient confidentiality? PIC claimed that because marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug (defined by the federal government as having a high potential for abuse), they must report it to the employer.
An obvious question came to mind: “what about opiates?” Opiates are also a Schedule 1 drug. “We just report the marijuana stuff, not those,” PIC replied. I pointed out that this seemed to contradict their earlier claim of reporting all Schedule 1 drugs regardless of having a doctor’s prescription, and that if that was true anyone on prescription painkillers, or any opiate-based drug, would be out of a job. Also, I explained that PIC seemed to be discriminating against patients on medical cannabis for legitimate conditions.
PIC said that this situation was protocol. I was expecting them to make it an issue of safety or something, but it never came up. Basically, PIC were saying that they report it because they can. The conversation ended by asking PIC if they thought it was fair to their patients if they ignore medical background and report positive results to employers and probation officers with absolutely no medical context. He actually said “no” and hung up the phone.
Needless to say, I did not get the job, and am now stuck with a new pair of steel-toed boots.
Calls to Physicians Immediate Care from 420WindyCity were not returned. Following email exchanges with Freedman Seating Marketing Manager, John-Paul Paonessa, Freedman Seating had no comment when asked if it discriminates against medical marijuana users, or if it ignores the medical backgrounds of veterans.
As a soldier at heart, I will keep moving toward achieving my creative goals, even though times are tough. I filed a claim against the MRO through the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation. However, I am still extremely worried that certain employers and doctors here in Chicago might be using the current gaps between state and federal law to medically discriminate against people who use medical cannabis or other general, prescription drugs.
Until these laws get tighter, going green is definitely no safe bet.