Law Blog

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Employee Rights and Alcoholism

These days, many employers forbid employees drinking alcohol on the job or drinking excessively before coming to work. Unfortunately, if you suffer from alcoholism and you are unable to control your drinking, you face a number of risks and it could affect your job performance.

Since alcoholism is classified as a disease, employees in recovery or treatment programs are protected by law from dismissal or discrimination, but if an employee’s job performance is affected by his or her drinking, an employer can take action. Since alcoholism is a disease and not a disability, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) offers only limited protection.

To learn more about the ADA, visit the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division page on the act.

If you are battling an addiction to alcohol and you are afraid it could interfere with your employment, what do you need to know?

Employees have a right to privacy and any information related to an employee’s alcoholism must be kept confidential. Employers can ask you during the interview process if you consume alcohol, but cannot ask how much or how frequently, or if there is an issue with addiction. New employees might be required to undergo a medical exam, which could include testing for substance abuse, but any information received from the exam must be kept confidential. Furthermore, the company cannot revoke an employment offer if it is revealed through the exam that you are an alcoholic.

Employers with 50 or more employees must permit up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for an employee to participate in a treatment program for alcohol addiction. Companies are also required to pay for the treatment if it is a part of the medical plan offered to employees. Employers are permitted to monitor progress during treatment.

The reasonable accommodations portion of the ADA requires an employee to prove that he or she cannot perform at least one major life activity, and then to formally request proper accommodations. Employees also have the right to request a shift in work hours so they are able to attend treatment, and employers must make an effort to comply, unless doing so would create an undue burden on the company.

Alcoholism Does Not Eliminate Employee Responsibility

Keep in mind, alcoholism offers no protection from discipline for misconduct. You cannot be terminated for being an alcoholic, but if your behavior violates company rules, creates a safety lapse, or results in repeated absences from work, you can be terminated, even if the reason for your misconduct is related to alcohol.

The bottom line is if you suffer from alcoholism and it is interfering with your daily life in any way – as it does for many - your job is at risk unless you seek treatment. However, if you are making an effort to recover and your employer is interfering with that recovery, you have legal protection.

Want to know more about how alcoholism can affect you in the workplace? Are you making an effort to recover and you feel your employer is treating you unfairly? We can help. Contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to discuss your situation.

 

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