Nearly 19.7 million Americans have something in common. Of those millions, those in the workforce keep their pain a secret – the idea of their employers finding out fills them with fear.

Sadly, that fear is not misplaced.

For millions, the battle with alcoholism and drug addiction is a daily fight. And because of the stigmas attached to these disabilities, people suffer in silence.

But what happens when the silence is broken, and the secret is out?

When an employee realizes they need help, they don’t know what steps to take. But they should act early. This is especially true if the employee realizes their work attendance or performance is suffering, or pressures on the job are having a negative effect on them.

This article can in no way fully inform an employee. Because every employee will have their own special set of circumstances and people’s responses are always an unknown variable, know that we are here to help. Workers should know they have a right to:

Speak up and ask for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act:

When it comes to alcoholism and drug addiction, one of the most difficult steps is, or will be, admitting there’s a problem. But, what next?

Having an alcohol or drug addiction is a disability, but this disability does not insulate an employee from discipline or termination. Employers may still hold all workers to the same work performance standards. So, it is up to the employee to take the necessary steps to get treatment, and the FMLA helps workers do just that.

Under the FMLA, substance abuse is considered a serious health condition for which the employee may be entitled to FMLA leave to receive treatment. Leave under the FMLA for substance abuse treatment is protected if it is provided by a health care provider or a provider of health care services.

If under the FMLA you are an eligible employee, you are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. If this leave is necessary to receive proper treatment, you have a right to speak up and use it.

Speak up and ask for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act:

Beyond the FMLA, you may be entitled to request a reasonable accommodation from your employer under the ADA.

One of the key functions of the ADA is to create a duty for employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities.

An employee that suffers from alcoholism or is recovering from alcoholism is considered disabled under the ADA. Usage of illegal drugs is not protected under the ADA, but recovering addicts that are receiving treatment for drug addiction or who have been successfully rehabilitated are also protected.

Under the ADA, these workers may be entitled to reasonable accommodations. Accommodations may include a modified work schedule to attend Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meetings or a leave of absence for treatment. It is imperative that an employee in need of help speak with their health care provider to determine what work accommodations might help them be successful in both their recovery and at work.

When the silence is broken, know your rights and exercise them. If you are not sure where to start, you can contact a Texas Employment Lawyer to help. If you don’t speak up for yourself no one else will.

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Photo of Kalandra N. Wheeler Kalandra N. Wheeler

We asked Kalandra N. Wheeler, a Trial Attorney in the Houston office of Wiley Wheeler, P.C., to provide her sincere answers to a range of questions.  After reading, you will be more more abreast with the understanding and competency that Ms. Wheeler

We asked Kalandra N. Wheeler, a Trial Attorney in the Houston office of Wiley Wheeler, P.C., to provide her sincere answers to a range of questions.  After reading, you will be more more abreast with the understanding and competency that Ms. Wheeler brings.

1.Why did you start practicing labor and employment law?

I wanted to be able to help people that otherwise might not find help. Labor and employment laws affect most of society.  And – whether our results help one or many – our work and efforts as employment lawyers touch people in a real way in their every day lives.

2. Who is your favorite Supreme Court Justice?

Thurgood Marshall.

3. What do you think is the most important part of a good case?

The client. Good facts and evidence are definitely important. But good clients are a lawyers’ most valuable asset.  A good client: (1) is invested in their case; (2) works or worked hard for their employer; (3) can tell their story clearly and concisely; and (4) is someone that a jury will find sympathetic and relatable.

4. If you could write a new law, what would it do?

The Texas Workplace Anti-Bullying law.  I hear the stories, the ones told by employees looking for help. And in far too many of those stories the law offers no solution.  Every employee that goes to work and works hard to do the job they are hired to perform should be able to do so without abuse, harassment, and bullying. There is no justification for bullying, not in our schools, and not in our workplaces.

5. Besides Rob Wiley, P.C., what is the most interesting job that you have had?

For a year before law school, I worked as a lube tech for Jiffy Lube.  I spent hot summer days, working on hot cars, changing oil or flushing transmissions or radiators.  I never had a customer come back with a complaint.

6. How do you market yourself differently than others?

I tell clients what they need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear. Before a client begins down any path toward resolving an employment dispute, they need thoughtful, honest advice. I am a believer in justice and everyday people deserve competent representation in an arena that is difficult for non-lawyers to navigate.

7. What do you do when you’re not practicing law?

I spend time with family and friends.  I read true crime books.  I sew and draw.

8. How would you describe the color yellow to someone who could not see?

It’s not the intense heat of the sun during the month of August, but instead the softness of the sun on your skin just as the seasons change from Summer to Fall.  It’s warm. And soft to the touch.  It’s fresh squeezed lemonade with a hint of sugar.  Slightly cool, inviting, and happy.

9. What’s your favorite legal TV show?

Law & Order: SVU

10. If you could argue any case in history, what would it be?

The Karen Silkwood case. But really, I think that would be more about arguing and trying a case alongside Gerry Spence for the learning experience.

Kalandra N. Wheeler is a Trial Attorney in the Houston office of Wiley Wheeler, P.C.  She graduated from The University of Houston with a bachelor’s degree in political science.  Ms. Wheeler went on and received her law degree from The University of Arkansas.