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The basics of alcoholic employees' rights under the ADA

Alcoholism is a pervasive disease that affects millions of Americans both directly and indirectly (i.e. the family and friends of alcoholics). It often destroys lives before its victims lose their lives. This means that they commonly lose their jobs before their lives get turned upside down.

Indeed, job applicants are entitled towards privacy in regards to revealing whether they drink alcohol, since certain questions may not be used to unearth information about a potential disability. But some questions remain regarding the rights an employee with an alcohol problem may have under federal law.

Essentially, alcoholic employees can be covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if they can show that they are “substantially limited in a major life activity” or “regarded as” such by their employer. This designation entitles an embattled employee to a reasonable accommodation in their job duties; commonly manifested in certain amounts of leave to attend a rehabilitation or detoxification program that would take them away from work.

Leave of this type should not be counted against an employee’s attendance record or be an impediment to a performance evaluation. Additionally, an employer should be flexible in the type and amount of leave granted for an employee to address a disability.

Employees seeking leave under the ADA should also be cautioned that federal law does not cover employees with continued attendance records that are separate from an alcohol problem. Similarly, an employer’s decision to terminate an employee for related criminal actions may also not be prohibited.

If you have questions about your rights and options with your employer, an experienced attorney can advise you.

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