There is a difference between having an occasional drink and being an alcoholic.  According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, approximately 18 million American adults are alcoholics or have alcohol problems.  They associate four main features with alcoholism.  They are: craving, loss of control, physical dependence, and tolerance.  Alcoholism can have detrimental effects on one’s life, not only in regards to their health, but in other aspects as well.

Alcoholism and the Workplace

Drinking alcohol can affect a person’s performance at work.  It can not only affect their safety on the job, but impact their ability to perform up to standards or show up regularly.  The United States Commission on Civil Rights notes that reports have shown that between 10 and 25 percent of Americans are “sometimes on the job under the influence of alcohol or some illicit drug.”  Does this mean that these people should lose their jobs?  Not necessarily.

Many courts stand by the ruling that alcoholism is a disability.  And like other disabilities, people should be protected from discrimination and given reasonable accommodations.  It is within their rights for employers to prohibit the use of illegal drugs and alcohol at the workplace.  They must comply with federal rules and regulations and ensure a safe work environment.  But they also cannot discriminate against someone who is a recovering alcoholic and has previously undergone treatment, or is currently undergoing treatment.

How does the Americans with Disabilities Act apply to alcoholics?

One of the requirements of the ADA is to provide qualified individuals with disabilities with reasonable accommodations.  Since many courts uphold that alcoholism is a covered disability, these people are often protected under the ADA.  Some courts specify that alcoholism must impair an individual’s major life activities and rule on a case-by-case basis, while others simply rule it as a covered disability.

Even though a person with alcoholism is often considered to have a disability, their employer can still require that they do not use alcohol at work or come to work under the influence of alcohol, and hold them to the same employment standards as other employees.  However, they must also provide them with reasonable accommodations.

Reasonable Accommodations under the ADA

Alcoholics can still be disciplined for misconduct or performance problems.  Their disability does prevent them from having to follow employer policies.  However, knowing that an employee suffers from alcoholism, an employer could provide them with a modified work schedule, allowing them time off to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.  Or, they could grant them a leave of absence in order to seek treatment at an executive rehab facility to deal with their addiction.  The employer does not have to provide a rehabilitation program or opportunity for rehabilitation, however.  But these options would fall under reasonable accommodations.  It is the responsibility of the employee to ask for accommodations though, and to admit that they have a disability.

Why seek treatment?

Alcoholism is a disability that can be overcome.  With the appropriate support and treatment, a person can learn to manage their addiction and return to living a more normal and productive life.  Employers cannot discriminate against an applicant or employee simply because they have undergone drug or alcohol rehabilitation.  As long as the person can perform the essential functions of the job and is not a safety threat, they should have an equal chance as someone without a history of addiction.  Giving employees time off to treat their alcoholism at an executive rehab facility is one way employers can support the efforts of individuals who are actively seeking to improve their lives and recover from addiction.

Addiction does not have to rule your life.  If you or a loved one are looking to improve your life and career and overcome addiction, contact Chapters Capistrano today to see how we can help.

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