The January 2008 Legal Report from the Society for Human Resource Management went into depth about this unique challenge.
Here are some of the highlights:
- Employees may be prohibited from using or being under the influence of alcohol at work.
- You may hold alcohol-dependent employees to the same performance and behavior standards as non-alcoholics.
- You may discipline or discharge employees for inappropriate conduct generated by alcohol abuse, as long as you’re applying the same standards to all employees.
- If an employee appears to be inebriated, you may ask them if they’re under the influence.
- The courts are divided on whether alcohol dependency is a disability under the ADA. Some courts have ruled that alcohol dependency is a “disability” only if the condition substantially limits a major life activity
- Just because an individual has an episode with alcohol does not make them alcohol-dependent and therefore covered by the ADA.
- You don’t have to put up with inappropriate behavior by someone with alcoholism; whether it’s profanity, driving under the influence, or any other behavior. Employees are also prohibited from being a threat to themselves or others, and violating rules such as attendance requirements.
Finally, the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (the most employee-friendly circuit in the nation) approved these steps as “reasonable accommodation:”
- The main goal of accommodating an alcoholic is to get them to treatment.
- Provide the employee with a firm choice between treatment and discipline.
- If an employee agrees to go to outpatient treatment, they may be disciplined for continued drinking or failure to participate in treatment.
- Provide the employee with an opportunity for inpatient treatment.
- Discharge the employee only after a second relapse.
- Grant at least one leave of absence to participate in a treatment program.
- Consider whether it’s reasonable for the company to pick up the cost of treatment, the elimination of an essential job function, and any related absences.