The right to work is a fundamental human privilege with roots as far back as 1948 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Just because a person is coping with a substance use disorder does not mean that they have to automatically sacrifice that freedom.
Unfortunately, a person who is fighting a battle against substance abuse may face discrimination and not have a fair opportunity at gainful employment. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act gives clear guidelines on protections for such individuals.
ADA coverage for people fighting a drug problem
The ADA and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights outline protections for individuals with a history of drug addiction. These safeguards extend to those who have successfully undergone rehabilitation or are currently in a rehab program. The ADA also covers individuals who only seem to be illegally using drugs.
However, these protections do not cover those actively using illegal drugs at the time of employment decisions. Courts typically define “current use” as periodic drug use in the weeks and months leading up to a job-related decision. The room for interpretation here stresses the need for individualized assessments for each case.
Alcohol users under the ADA
The ADA also recognizes alcoholism as a disability, and courts generally acknowledge it as a protected condition. Once again, individualized inquiries are necessary to evaluate whether alcoholism substantially limits major life activities and qualifies as a disability.
Nevertheless, employers retain the right to enforce rules regarding alcohol use in the workplace. This authority can ensure that employees with alcohol-related performance issues must hold to the same standards as other workers for safety and performance.
Reasonable accommodation and pre-employment inquiries
An employer’s duty to provide reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with disabilities extends to recovering alcoholics and drug users. Accommodations could involve modified work schedules or leaves of absence.
Furthermore, pre-employment inquiries into drug and alcohol use must also follow ADA regulations. Employers may ask about current drug use or alcohol consumption but cannot ask about past rehabilitation history. After a conditional offer of employment, the company may make broader inquiries as they relate to the job.
Direct threats and testing practices
If an employer senses a direct threat concerning a person’s substance abuse, the company may deny a job or benefit. Also, the ADA does not prohibit drug testing.
However, employers must be cautious to avoid discriminatory actions based on positive results. The organization must comply with the confidentiality of drug test results and adherence to federal regulations.
Clearly, people with substance use disorders have employment protections. If a person senses that a company has overstepped its bounds in any of these areas, the individual can assert their rights on the basis of the ADA.