An Informative Guide to Alcoholism and Workplace Discrimination

Photo of a man being firedSeveral weeks ago, we published a blog on the firing of Steve Sarkisian, the former coach of the USC Trojans. In the blog, we discussed how Sarkisian may have faced workplace discrimination, as alcoholism is considered a disability by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. However, more can be said about how workers with alcoholism are protected from workplace discrimination.

Alcoholism is a protected disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act (RA), both federal laws. Depending on the employer and other circumstances, both laws can offer protections to alcoholic workers seeking reprieve from workplace discrimination.

  • Many employers cannot discipline or fire employees who are undergoing outpatient or inpatient treatment. This can include counseling, employee assistance programs or recognized self-help programs such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous.
  • Employees with substance abuse disorders must be given reasonable accommodation, such as allowing time off for counseling, medical care or self-help programs.
  • Both the ADA and RA laws protect individuals with records of substance abuse, or employees who are suspected of being addicts or alcoholics. These laws do not protect casual users.
  • Employers cannot discriminate against employees who have undergone rehabilitation for substance abuse disorders.
  • Employers can prohibit drinking at work, meaning employees who violate these guidelines may be fired.

How Alcoholic Employees Can Defend Against Workplace Discrimination

Whether or not someone is considered disabled from alcoholism is decided on a case-by-case basis. Like most cases involving employment law, it helps to have evidence. Medical records, attendance sheets for AA meetings, or other documentation can be useful tools during a lawsuit. In addition, emails or other communications that display discrimination against employees with alcoholism can also help.