A power station worker who was allegedly fired after a routine drugs test showed he had opiates in his blood system, claims the result was due to poppy seed bread he had eaten for breakfast.
The employee, who has not been named, wrote to BBC consumer advice programme, Rip Off Britain. In a bid to find out if edible poppy seeds might in fact result in a positive test for opiates, TV presenter Angela Rippon conducted her own research, acting as a guinea pig by eating a loaf of poppy seed bread over the course of three days, along with a poppy seed bagel, after which she took a drugs test. To her amazement, the test results also came back positive for the presence of opiates.
Seventy-two-year-old Ms Rippon said: “In more than 50 years of broadcasting I’ve found myself in a number of extraordinary situations. But I must say I never thought I’d find myself taking a drugs test, let alone have it come back positive.”
During an interview with Professor Atholl Johnston, a toxicology expert at Queen Mary University, Ms Rippon asked: “Does that mean that if I was taking a test as an employee, that my employers could say there’s a possibility, Rippon, that you’re a drug taker?”
Professor Johnston replied: “The amount of morphine in a poppy seed will vary quite considerably depending on when and where it was harvested. In fact, when tests have been done there’s about a 600-fold variation in the amount of morphine in poppy seeds.”
“The consumption of illegal drugs is generally considered to be undesirable but it is up to individual employers to state their position on such matters in their policies and procedures.
“It is not unreasonable to classify attending work under the influence of drugs as a gross misconduct offence since it is likely to breach health and safety standards.
“How the courts might view an employee’s claim that their positive test for opiates resulted from eating poppy seed bread, has still to be tested. If an employer is aware of matters that might complicate test results, it would be sensible to bring these to employees’ attention and make reference to them in the relevant policy.”
“Any employee who considers that an unfair decision has been made, for whatever reason, has the right to escalate that matter by means of an internal appeal pursuant to their employer’s policies and procedures. The potential grounds of appeal would depend on individual circumstances.
“One significant right to appeal exists if the individual concerned requires prescribed medication, including an opiate, for a condition which is considered to be a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act. If they are dismissed as a result of a drug test, they could have a valid claim for discrimination against their employer.”
Any employee who is concerned about alcohol or drugs testing in the workplace or possible disciplinary action, should seek expert legal advice.
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