The ADA and Drug & Alcohol Abuse

Hello, and welcome to LegalEase. Today, I would like to talk about the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”)  and drug and alcohol abuse.

As we know, under the ADA, individuals are entitled to reasonable accommodations if they have a disability that substantially limits a major life activity and there is no undue hardship to the employer.  What if an employee or an applicant is recovering from a drug addiction or alcohol abuse? What do you do, as an employer? 

First, you cannot discriminate against an individual because they are recovering  from alcohol or drug  abuse. That means you can’t refuse to hire, you can’t fire, you can’t demote, and you can’t harass.

To be clear,  I am not talking about employees who are currently involved in illegal drug use. The ADA does not apply to illegal drug use. We are  talking about individuals  who are in rehabilitation programs trying to better themselves so they can improve the workplace.  And, if such an employee or applicant fits the definition of having a disability (based on the addiction)  that substantially limits a major life activity, they are likely entitled to a reasonable accommodation.

And what does  a reasonable accommodation look like under these circumstances?  It can include a flexible work schedule so the employee can attend rehabilitation,  time off for rehabilitation to attend a long-term rehab facility, a  support animal, or even a request to remove certain triggers in the workplace. As an example of triggers, let’s say the workplace has alcohol on site that employees can partake in after a certain hour. The relevant employee may ask, “Can you remove the alcohol because it is a trigger for me?” and that would be a reasonable accommodation that an employer might want to provide.

In summation, we understand that if an employee is recovering from drug or alcohol abuse, that employee may fit the definition of being disabled under the ADA and, thus,  be entitled to a reasonable accommodation.

This is the question  we often receive: “Can I still discipline this employee even though he or she is  recovering from addiction or alcoholism?”  The employer usually complains that the employee is not showing up for work on time and, generally,  not following through. The answer is ,yes, you can still discipline a recovering alcoholic or recovering addict. The relevant employee is required to follow the rules! The employee may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation but must, otherwise, be treated like everyone else.

If you have any questions about the ADA and how it applies to  one of your employees or applicants who is dealing with the recovery of drug or alcohol abuse, give us a call. We’ll be happy to (1) create a policy for you and (2)  explain how to manage and incorporate the policy into your workplace.

Thank you for joining LegalEase. You can always schedule a consultation through our website, and our link is in our bio.