ADA Interaction with Addictions

HR Resource
February 12, 2013 — 2,573 views  
Become a Bronze Member for monthly eNewsletter, articles, and white papers.

ADA Interaction with Addictions

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was drafted generally to give disabled Americans employment opportunities. Congress identifies some disabilities, on the basis of their nature, to be special and requiring safety precautions. Alcohol and drug addictions are two disabilities that come under this criterion. The ADA necessitates employers to differentiate between behavioral rules and reasonable safety of the workplace to accommodate those who are addicted to drugs.

A general rule allows employers to enforce realistic workplace rules against working or arriving at the workplace under the influence of drugs. ADA supports employees who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, in getting proper leave and medical facilities from the company in order to rehabilitate them.

ADA Protection for Drug Addicts

The ADA does not take the responsibility of supporting users of illegal or street drugs. But it protects workers who have controlled their addiction long enough to be classified are non-users of illegal drugs. Employers must offer such workers the options to keep them from going back to drug use, for instance, inpatient care, time for attending narcotic meetings, counseling, and drug therapy.

The ADA does not protect a worker who is currently using illegal drugs, and employers have full right to fire them.

ADA Protection for Alcoholics

To get ADA protection, the addiction level of the alcoholic should be serious enough to damage an important life function like taking care of himself. Several heavy drinkers can also take the alcohol addiction test. But this does not obligate the employers to tolerate employees coming drunk or badly hung-over to work.

Although employers may not have the right to fire employees who use drugs for recreational purposes during off-duty hours, they can take action when these employees disrupt the work atmosphere in any way under the influence of drugs.

Steps to Avoid Legal Issues Related To Drug and Alcohol Addiction

If you are an employer, the following guidelines can help you prevent legal problems related to drug and alcohol addictions.

  • Set rules related to the job against arriving to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Start behavioral requirements like regular attendance and punctuality.
  • Consistently apply the rules at the workplace. Sack people for disruptive behavior at workplace, such as coming to work high or drunk.
  • Maintain records of workers you discipline and the reason for disciplining them.

Differentiating between Recreational Drug use and Addiction

Not everybody who consumes alcohol or drugs is disabled. To be considered as disabled, the addiction should be severe enough to impair important life activity. An employee who drinks or smokes marijuana socially during off-duty hours is not considered as disabled and is not covered by ADA. 

But workplace rules must be enforced on all employees. Going strict on workers who are addicted to drugs and easy on social drinkers can land you in legal trouble if the addicted worker sues you. Applying a neutral policy with your employees can help you avoid an ADA case and maintain a healthy atmosphere around the workplace.

HR Resource