Written by attorney Scott M. Behren

Is Alcohol or Drug Addiction Covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

In some instances, an employee may have a drug or alcohol addiction. The question is whether or not these drug and alcohol addictions are protected disabilities under the ADA.

The answer is alcoholics are protected under the ADA and persons who have used illegal drugs are also protected to the extent that they are no longer using illegal drugs and are in treatment for the addiction or have completed an addiction program.

Those addicted to drugs or alcohol are excluded from ADA protection if their condition poses a direct threat of harm to others or (arguably) themselves. As with all ADA claims, the addicted person must be otherwise qualified to complete the necessary tasks, with or without accommodations, and the accommodations must not cause “undue hardship" to the employer.

A drug or alcohol addict is then entitled to accomodation from their employer under the ADA. Such accomodations could include leave time to attend counseling or AA meetings.

Some other examples of accommodations include:

  1. Modified work schedule to allow for daily methadone pickup

  2. “Job restructuring to relieve an employee of particular marginal tasks that may compromise recovery"

  3. “Temporary reassignment of an employee in a safety-related position to a vacant non–safety-sensi- tive position while he or she completes treatment."

Although some addicted people are covered under the ADA . For example, although the ADA covers persons who have completed a supervised drug rehabilitation program or otherwise have been successfully rehabilitated, the ADA denies coverage of “any employee or applicant who is currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs, when the covered entity acts on the basis of such use." In contrast, “otherwise qualified" persons addicted to alcohol are covered under the ADA unless they pose a direct threat to others or break specific workplace rules against the use of alcohol.

These issues are frequently litigated and have been addressed by many court cases. They can be fact intensive and should be evaluated by each employee with a qualified labor and employment law attorney.

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