When an employee’s addiction is no longer a secret at work, they may be concerned with the possibility of supervisors critiquing their work more harshly and suddenly making frequent performance complaints, or even upper management and human resources making them feel unsupported at work. When this happens, they are sure to have questions.

Can I be fired because of my addiction?

If you are wondering what the answer is to this question, the answer is – it depends. Different facts and circumstances will yield different answers.

Because there is no hard and fast rule, it is important to speak with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible.

As mentioned in Part 1, the sooner an employee struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction speaks with an employment attorney, they can begin to learn about their rights – whether it’s leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to seek treatment or accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Knowing their rights early and taking immediate action may provide an employee with protections they may not have later.

What if my addiction is alcohol?

America is filled with social drinkers. And, an employee drinking on their own time and away from work typically has no bearing on their employment, and it shouldn’t.

Unfortunately, if alcohol abuse leads to performance issues such as decreased productivity, tardiness or absenteeism, or irritability and disputes with coworkers, regardless of whether the consumption was at home the night before, an employee may still be disciplined and or terminated under company policies.

Yes, alcoholism is a disability under the ADA and it is unlawful for an employer to make employment decision based on the fact that an employee is an alcoholic. However, the ADA does not insulate an employee. An employer can still hold an employee to the same performance standards as all other employees.

“But what if my employer holds me to different standards? Joe has been absent three times in the last month. But my supervisor fired me the first time I missed work after he found out I’m an alcoholic. They never do that.” If the employer fails to follow company practices and policies as they relate to an employee simply because they know he or she is an alcoholic, the employer may have legal trouble. Employees with alcohol abuse problems are entitled to the same treatment as any other employee, just like any other employee with a disability they can’t be singled out simply because of their disability. That’s discrimination.

What if I have a drug addiction?

Unfortunately, in some respects, the law does treat alcohol and drug addiction differently in the protections provided to employees. It is unfortunate, because addiction is addiction, and everyone deserves an opportunity to get help and live a normal life in recovery.

Under the ADA, an employee that is currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs is excluded from the definition of an “individual with a disability.” When an employee is excluded from this definition, this means they don’t enjoy the same protections under the law. Sadly, this means that an employer can take adverse employment actions against an employee on the basis of their current illegal drug use.

However, if an employee is in recovery based on past illegal drug use, or is currently receiving treatment, they are protected under the ADA as an “individual with a disability” and protected from discrimination based on that history. Furthermore, they may be entitled to reasonable accommodations if necessary to perform their job.

Reminder: Get Ahead of It

There are far too many nuances to the employment laws that apply to employees that struggle with the disability of alcoholism or drug addiction. The protections provided to an employee are very fact specific. Because the law requires special navigation it is very important to get ahead of your employer and contact our Texas Employment Lawyers as the first sign of addiction.

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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.