ADA Disabilities and Addicted Workers: a 5-step approach

by on December 15, 2008 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Balancing your interests and the disability rights of an addicted worker

It’s always a ticklish situation when an employee misbehaves because of an addiction to alcohol or drugs. One thing is clear – alcoholism and addiction qualify as ADA Disabilities

But what the ADA lawsuits have failed to make clear is whether and how you can discipline an addicted employee.

Some courts have ruled you can fire an addicted employee for misconduct that would have triggered the firing of any employee.

Their reasoning under ADA law

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects only the disability, not misconduct caused by the disability. But others have ruled the other way – if you discipline disability-related misconduct, you’re violating ADA guidelines .

What’s an employer to do?

Luckily, a pair of legal scholars have just weighed in with a fresh analysis of ADA Disability Law, and formulated a five-point program for dealing with substance related misconduct:

1. Advise of available counseling services. Don’t accuse the person of being an alcoholic or addict. Simply let them know about people they can see or programs they can look into.

2. If the misconduct continues, offer a choice of counseling or discipline.
You can proceed with discipline, up to dismissal, if he/she denies alcoholism or admits it and refuses treatment.

3. If the employee chooses treatment, facilitate it on an outpatient basis.
This can take the form of payment assistance or scheduling adjustments.

4. If necessary, allow the employee to undergo inpatient treatment. Your company may have short-term disability coverage for such situations.

5. If the person relapses after treatment, apply discipline. A court will see this as reasonable.

Possible exception: The employee falls off the wagon just once after a long abstinence.

Source: “Disability Claims for Alcohol- Related Misconduct,” white paper by
L. Dustin Riddle and Richard A. Bales,
Northern Kentucky Univ. Chase Law School.

Issue 6.8 DOP 11-12-07

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