Can You Be Fired for Drug Abuse?

Have you heard about the two United Airlines pilots who were arrested in Scotland for being drunk? Fortunately, they were arrested before they could take off in a plane carrying 141 passengers, but the incident does raise some questions. If airline pilots are drinking on the job, how many other workers might be abusing substances at work? Can employees be fired for substance abuse?

These questions affect millions of working Americans who struggle with addiction. Statistics gathered by the U.S. Department of Labor claim that in 2007, 12.3 million addicts and alcoholics had full-time jobs. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, workers abusing drugs and alcohol experience a loss in efficiency, are regularly late and have a higher rate of injuries and accidents. That last part is especially troublesome if you happen to be a commercial airline pilot.

There is a common misconception that addicts and alcoholics can automatically be singled out and fired. That is not necessarily the case.

What You Should Know About Substance Abuse and Job Termination

Lawful job termination would depend on the circumstances, because alcoholism is a protected health condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This means an alcoholic employee who qualifies as disabled is entitled to reasonable accommodations. However, alcoholic employees do not have a free pass to drink during work if it is forbidden by their employers. Poor job performance or unsatisfactory behavior caused by alcoholism can still result in legal job termination.

Drug addiction is a bit trickier, as only recovering addicts who also meet the definition of disabled are protected under the ADA. Also, the Family Medical Leave Act protects workers who are taking time off to seek treatment for substance abuse. The ADA protects workers who are currently seeking treatment for drug addiction (and are not using), or who have sought treatment for addiction in the past. Workers who are actively using drugs do not typically qualify for ADA protections.

The Los Angeles employment law attorneys can help workers who have been harmed by wrongful termination.

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