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 employment attorneys as the first sign of addiction.