What is BNSF changing?

– Although the previous “Use of Alcohol and Drugs Policy” specifically allowed on-duty

employees to use medications properly prescribed by their doctors, the most recent “Fitness for Duty Restrictions of Medications” guidelines appears to eliminate this policy. Under Title 49, Part 219 of the FRA, it appears that railroads have the authority to adopt drug control policies which are more restrictive than the Federal guidelines. The most recent “restricted medications list” could be interpreted as the railroads exercising this authority. Prior railroad policies permitted an on-duty employee to take certain “restricted medications” (e.g. hydrocodone, alprazolam, tramadol, etc.) as long as the medications were prescribed by a physician who understood the employee’s job duties. However, the current “restricted medications list” appears to prohibit any employee from working while under the influence of a restricted medication, even if the medication is being taken as prescribed by a doctor.

How might this affect you on the job?

– The timing restrictions of this new policy may make it more difficult for workers to

schedule their on-duty availability. If you are taking any of the medications listed on the “restricted” list as part of an ongoing treatment plan, you may not be able to work while under the influence of these medications even if they are prescribed by a doctor.

What action do you need to take?

Ensure that you have discussed all medications you are currently taking with your primary care physician, even those prescribed by another doctor. It is also important that you inform your prescribing doctor about the type of work you do so they can make an informed decision about whether or not the medications you take affect your ability to do your job safely.

Ultimately, these restrictions are part of a larger, more comprehensive drug and alcohol policy framework. Both railroads and railroad employees are required to comply with certain standards under the Federal Regulations, as well as any rules established by the railroad independently. We believe that the application of this program is evolving, and its ultimate impact is as yet unknown.


Rossi Vucinovich PC Staff

Recent Verdicts from Rossi Vucinovich

Nestor vs. UPRR

Our client, Darrel Nestor, is a Carman who developed carpal tunnel in both his wrists from tight fighting and bulky work gloves. UPRR failed to accommodate his requests for safe and proper fitting loves which their rules require. He ultimately was unable to continue working in the Denver repair shops after surgery to both wrists. UPRR offered $20,000 before trial. Verdict: $1,075,000, net to client after contributory fault: $690,000.

McGuire vs. BNSF

John McGuire was a locomotive engineer for BNSF out of Everett, WA. He was injured when his train was switched onto the wrong track, slamming into a standing cut of cars. He hurt his neck and low back. John was 54 at the time of injury and tried to work for one-and-a-half years, but forced to leave the job due to ongoing pain and discomfort. BNSF finally admitted their fault but only offered $150,000 to settle before trial and end John’s career. After a two-and-a-half-week trial, the jury awarded $713,000.

Jim Vucinovich (Designated SMART Legal Counsel)