Is Alcoholism a disability? Examining the ADA and Substance Abuse

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Alcoholism is a major contributing factor to the death of more than 47,000 Americans every year.  Nearly 1 out of 4 Americans report at least one heavy drinking day per week.  Adults who suffer from chronic alcoholism suffer from depression, suicidal thoughts.  Often they become involved with legal issues such as DUI or DWI, domestic violence, and other criminal charges.  Beyond the mental and legal problems, adults who suffer from chronic alcoholism also develop acute medical conditions such as damage to liver cells; inflammation of the pancreas; various cancers, including liver, mouth, throat, larynx, and esophagus; high blood pressure; and psychological disorders.  Alcoholism in pregnant women may lead to future illnesses of their children, such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which may permanently impair a child’s physical health, behavior, or learning abilities.  If you or someone you know suffers from alcoholism, it is strongly encouraged that you seek medical or mental health treatment from a licensed practitioner.
Alcohol and substance abuse affects millions of Americans and lead to the loss of thousands of hours in labor every year.  Some instances are isolated and have little impact on an employee’s overall job performance.  However, for many, it is a chronic problem that leads to employment issues and financial instability.
While alcoholism is recognized as a disease by most health professionals, it is not a “get out of work free” card.  State & Federal courts and statements from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have determined it does not excuse poor job performance and excessive absence from work.  Below are some questions to consider when choosing if an employee’s alcoholism is a factor in making accommodations or recommendations for disciplinary action.
When dealing with persons with other substance abuse issues, such as illegal or prescription drug abuse, the law and standards become more challenging to determine.
The Employment & Labor attorneys of Massey & Duffy, PLLC are experienced in Disability Discrimination and wrongful termination cases.  Call our office at (352) 505 – 8900 to schedule a FREE CONSULTATION today!
Does an employee who is an alcoholic has a “disability” within the meaning of the ADA?
While there is no definitive threshold to determine when alcoholism is considered a disability, employees are deemed to have protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act, if their employer perceives them as having a disability, even when that perception is false or unsubstantiated.   An example would be an employer firing an employee because he has stated he is a current/former alcoholic, or the employer perceives him as an alcoholic due to his associations or appearance.  If no cause is determined for his termination other than stated or perceived disability, than that employee would be covered under the ADA.
Is an alcoholic employee is qualified to perform the essential functions of their position?
ADA requires that the employee still be able to perform the essential job functions of a position.  While some reasonable accommodations are often made to persons with disabilities, most employers consider regular attendance, punctuality and satisfactory job performance to all be essential job functions.  Many companies specifically state that consumption of alcohol or working under the influence is not permitted.  Employers are not required to make exemptions to such policy for employees suffering from alcoholism.
Is an employer is required to accommodate an alcoholic employee like others with disabilities?
Employers are not required to tolerate adverse behavior that results from alcoholism.  For instance, if an employee is regularly late to work due to alcoholism, and the employer may take disciplinary action for the late arrival, missed work, disruptive behavior, etc.  However, and employer may be required to grant medical leave to an employee who has expressed the desire to seek treatment.
Can an employer discipline or terminate an alcoholic employee for poor performance or misconduct?
Absolutely.  The ADA specifically states that an employee may be disciplined for poor performance or misconduct that is a result of their alcohol use.  However, the employer must treat all employees equally in this respect.  So if an alcoholic and non-alcoholic employee are both frequently tardy or have poor job performance, disciplinary action must be the same as not to create a discriminatory environment.  An example may be the morning after the Super Bowl, five employees call out sick or are late to work due to hangovers from a Super Bowl Party.  If only those employees perceived as alcoholics are fired or receive some other disciplinary action that would violate the ADA.


More Posts

The Law of Ladders

Injuries from ladders are very common during construction.  Often, these ladders are supplied by employers or homeowners in a faulty condition. In such cases, the

Send Us A Message

Massey & Duffy

Our goal is to help people in the best way possible. This is our approach to every case. Contact us today for a free consultation. 

Practice Areas