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Drug and Alcohol Addiction in the Workplace

drug testAbout Drug and Alcohol Addiction in the Workplace

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is designed to protect people with disabilities. Though many assume this pertains to alcohol and drug addiction, it only does under certain circumstances.

So what does this mean?

Under the ADA, alcohol abuse is considered a disability and any employer governed by both New York law and the ADA must adhere to the ADA requirements and treat alcoholism as a disability. The current use of illegal drugs is not classified as a disability and the ADA does not offer protection for those who are actively using drugs or alcohol in the workplace.

Essentially, if you are drunk or high on the job or using drugs or alcohol during work hours whether you have been diagnosed with an addiction or not, you can be fired or disciplined in whatever manner is standard for your employer. However, you cannot be disciplined for having an addiction if you are not using while on the job.

As long as you do not use drugs or alcohol you are protected.

Addiction is Treated Differently under the ADA

Employees, with or without addiction, can all be held to the same standards. If your employer does not permit alcohol or drug use while on the job, that standard applies whether you have an addiction or not. Those with an addiction cannot use their addiction as an excuse if they are caught drinking or using drugs during work hours to protect their jobs under the ADA.

This also means that employers have the freedom to drug or alcohol test employees and can terminate employees based on the results of those tests. Under New York law, employers can implement testing policies at their discretion.

And while, New York’s Human Rights Law prohibits employment discrimination based on certain classifications, including disability, it does not address alcohol or drug use in the disability category.

This means at the federal and state level both, drug addiction and alcoholism are considered different from other disabilities. Conduct resulting from another disability is usually protected under the law, but not when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

For instance, if you have narcolepsy and are found sleeping on the job, the ADA would protect you because you have a diagnosed medical condition. However, if you fall asleep on the job because you are drinking, the ADA would offer no assistance.

Off-hours Use of Drugs and Alcohol Cannot Be Restricted by Employers

Employers are not permitted to dictate whether or not people consume alcohol or drugs when they are not working, as long as it does not interfere with their work. Furthermore, employees who use any legal consumable product are protected from discrimination relating to hiring or firing, compensation, promotion, and working conditions.

As long as the substance was legal and used before or after the conclusion of the employee’s work hours, is off-premises, and does not involve any equipment or property owned by the employer, cannot take action against the employee.

It is legal for employers to have an established substance abuse or alcohol program in the workplace, as long as it is within the parameters of the law. For more information on workplace substance abuse policies, check out this information from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

If you have questions about the protection offered to those with addiction under federal and New York laws, we can help. Contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to schedule a free consultation.

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