Are Alcoholism and Drug Use Disabilities Under the ADA?

Dustin Paschal here with Simon Paschal Says. Today we’re going to talk about basically the Americans with Disabilities Act with respect to both alcoholism and drug addiction or drug use. Now both drug addiction, drug use, and alcoholism are protected disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. They are considered disabilities, but there are some nuances and some differences with both of those, so we wanted to go over those just kind of briefly so that employers have an understanding of how that works.

So let’s start with the alcoholism piece. So alcoholism, like I said, is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The main thing to think about there is that that’s going to arise most times in the realm of a reasonable accommodation. For instance, say a current alcoholic may need a reasonable accommodation to visit rehab or to meet with an addiction counselor once a week or something along those lines. So it’s going to arise most often in the realm of an accommodation, but it is a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The question we get from employers is, “can I discipline someone who I know is an alcoholic who fails to show up for work or engages in unsafe actions in the workplace?” And the answer is, yes, because the law says that if you have policies in place that you apply equally to all employees, those policies can be applied to people who are alcoholic. The prime example is, if you have a policy regarding attendance and a no call, no show or if you don’t show up for work three days in a row, you’re terminated. You can apply that policy equally to an alcoholic. So if that alcoholic fails to show for three days in a row because he or she was drinking and unable to come to work, even though they are an alcoholic and that is a disability, you have a policy that you apply across the board evenly to all employees. So you can apply it in that instance and you can take disciplinary action including termination for that employee. Like I said, alcoholism will most often arise in the realm of reasonable accommodation.

Now the difference between alcoholism and drug addiction or drug use, is that current drug use, drug addiction is not considered something that’s protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Past drug use is. So you cannot discriminate against an individual who is a former drug user. Same goes, you can’t discriminate against someone who is a current or former alcoholic. But that’s the nuance and the difference there between alcoholism and drug use is that current drug use is not protected under the law and you can take whatever action is necessary against an employee who is currently using illegal drugs in your workplace.

So there’s just a few little pieces on both alcoholism and drug use with respect to the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you have further questions, both the TWC and the Department of Labor have good materials on this, or you can contact your friendly employment lawyer. Thank you for listening to us. This was Simon Paschal Says, we’ll see you next time.


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