Working with Alcoholics

Nora Akins

Alcoholism can qualify as a disability and disabled individuals are considered a protected class of employees. Balancing a protected alcoholic individual’s rights and enforcing work rules is not difficult as long as the employer knows the guidelines imposed by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Employers also need to keep state discrimination and leave laws in mind. It sounds complicated, but it is not.

Employers can write and enforce rules about drugs and alcohol in the workplace. The Ninth Circuit noted alcoholics are not exempt from reasonable work rules, including prohibiting possession and use of drugs and alcohol in the workplace. The Ninth Circuit went on to say employers are allowed to terminate employees for misconduct regardless of a disability. Employers need to remember a disability does not excuse an employee from meeting performance standards or complying with conduct rules.

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