Substance Abuse and the ADA: Drink, Drugs and Disability Discrimination

Access your free video now and learn the ins and outs of dealing with employees with alcoholism or prior drug addictions. In this training video you’ll learn:

  • How anti-discrimination law applies to employees who are disabled because of substance abuse problems
  • What you can and cannot do when setting performance standards for employees with drug and alcohol disabilities
  • The most important insight to keep in mind to help you handle issues involving employees and substance abuse

Why are we giving you all of this for free? Because it’s the best way we know to introduce you to a new approach to employment law compliance training.

Here’s how it works: Request your training video on substance abuse and the ADA now and we’ll email you a user name and password that gives you instant access to the Employment Law Compliance & Human Resources Rapid Learning Centers. There you’ll find your free training video on substance abuse and the ADA and a collection of other training resources for managers, supervisors and HR professionals. You’ll have unlimited trial access to this powerful library of e-learning modules, reports and fast-read article.

More information for those who love the details …

How the ADA protects recovering substance abusers

The ADA protects employees who are disabled because they are 1) alcoholics; or 2) recovering drug addicts who are NO LONGER engaging in illegal drug use. Alcoholism and/or prior drug addiction to illegal drugs may constitute disabilities under the ADA if they substantially limit one or more major life activities. The law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on such disabilities.

But generally speaking, the law DOESN’T stop an employer from disciplining or even terminating alcoholics or recovering addicts for misconduct or poor performance.

That’s the most important insight to remember when dealing with employees and substance abuse: The law protects the person, but not the conduct.

What this means is that supervisors can demand that an employee who is a recovering drug addict or alcoholic meet the same performance standards and obey the conduct rules that are applied to all other employees. If you treat them differently, even if you’re just trying to help, you could be paving the way for a mountain of legal troubles.

This “Substance Abuse and the ADA” video can help you sort out the do’s and don’ts of dealing with substance abusers in your workplace.

What the ADA says You CAN do to discipline substance abusers

The ADA does NOT insulate recovering substance abusers from justified discipline. Say you have a driver for your company who gets into an accident on the job as a result of driving under the influence. Even if they’re known to be a recovering alcoholic, can you fire them provided you have a written policy on drunk driving. You’re not firing the employee because they’re an alcoholic; you’re firing them because they violated company policy.

See the picture developing?

Supervisors can’t use a history of drug or alcohol problems to single people out for unfavorable treatment. However, they can insist that all employees, including substance abusers, perform and conduct themselves in a certain way as long as the supervisor is not treating the disabled employee differently from the non-disabled employee.

Access your free training video now and learn how you can remain on firm legal ground when disciplining recovering substance abusers.

Reasonable ADA Accommodations for substance abusers

One last point to remember: Sometimes your company may have to offer a reasonable accommodation to an employee who is trying to beat an alcohol or drug addiction.

If an employee like this asks you for help in doing his job, or a change in the way he does it, he may be making what the law considers a request for a “reasonable accommodation.” You need to recognize such requests and refer them to HR so HR can engage in the “interactive process.”


  • An employee who is trying to beat alcoholism asks for time off to attend a weekly counseling session that conflicts with her work hours.
  • A recovering drug addict asks for a schedule change due to the effect of medication he’s taking to control withdrawal effects.

Your free training video will give you more information on this tricky legal issue. The important thing to remember is you must give recovering addicts the same opportunities and treatment you give any other employee. Failure to do so is what lands otherwise caring and savvy managers in court.

Access “Substance abuse and the ADA” now as part of a free trial to the Employment Law Compliance & Human Resources Rapid Learning Centers.


Steve Meyer
Stephen Meyer
CEO, Rapid Learning Institute


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