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Is Alcoholism and Addiction a disability?

The American’s with Disability Act and Addiction

The ADA is the American’s with Disabilities Act. There are protections for people who have disabilities. So, a common question is “since Alcoholism and Addiction are considered a disease, is it also a disability.

Drug and alcohol abuse and dependence are classified as treatable illnesses by both “standard” diagnostic medical manuals. For your reference, these are called the DSM-IV and ICD-IO.

How the Americans with Disabilities Act Can Protect You from Termination

The strange thing is that many employers do not realize that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with drug and alcohol problems. One way it protects people is against discrimination in employment. The ADA also protects people who are participating in a supervised drug rehabilitation program, have completed a treatment program, or have been rehabilitated and are no longer using drugs illegally.

Here is a common question I get — “I am addicted to drugs and I need help to get sober; if I go to a 30-day treatment center will I be fired from my job?”.

This is good news if you are struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction and considering entering a treatment program. You can get help, without fear of discrimination.

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Although alcoholism and drug addiction both are disabilities under the ADA, they are, in some respects, treated differently. An alcoholic is viewed as having a disability and may be entitled to consideration of accommodation if the individual can perform the essential functions of the job. In contrast, someone who is addicted to drugs is protected only if he or she is not currently using illegal drugs.

Now, the bad news: if your job performance has declined because of drugs or alcohol use, your employer has the right to fire you if they can prove that your performance declined. Your employer also has the right to test you for drugs and fire you for drug use.

If you get caught on the job, using illegal drugs you can (and probably will) be fired. If you seek treatment, due to drug addiction, you are protected under the ADA.

Get Addiction Treatment Now

From a practical standpoint, the longer you delay treatment, the more you stand to lose. In fact, the best way to protect your job is to enter rehab. If you do this, the Americans with Disabilities Act can protect you from being fired.

There are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if you have not been employed at your job for one year, this protection may not apply.

The Americans with Disabilities Act – explained

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of life, including the workforce. A person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities.

Title I define what qualifies as a disability to include individuals who struggle with substance use, including alcoholism and drug addiction. If you decide to enter an addiction treatment program, you cannot be fired for past errors or poor job performance.

Keep in mind that the ADA does not protect individuals who are actively using drugs from being fired. Your employer has the right to test you for drugs and fire you if you are found to be using.

The Time for Drug Rehab is Now

Listen carefully, it is in your best interest to enter a drug or alcohol rehab program as soon as possible. This is true since the ADA will only protect you if you are in a treatment program and seek recovery.

What Will Happen to My Job While in Rehab?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, once you choose to enter rehab, your employer is required to make reasonable accommodations. This includes changing your work schedule so you can attend Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can also help to protect you from losing your job while you are in treatment. The FMLA allows eligible employees to take an unpaid leave of absence for up to 12 weeks within a 12-month period. If you enter a 30-day inpatient rehab program, for example, the FMLA will protect you from being fired from your job.

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If you need to go to rehab, you don’t have to quit your job or get fired.

If you have short-term disability insurance, you may also be able to receive payments under this insurance for the time that you are away from work and in treatment. Another option is to use accrued vacation time so you can still receive a paycheck.

Common Concerns with ADA

Before entering treatment, a common concern is that being away from work will cause skills to diminish. It’s natural to worry about what may happen while you are “out of the game”. This is especially true in highly competitive fields such as finance, sales, or law.

In truth, seeking treatment will actually help to improve your skills. When you enter a treatment center, the first step is traditionally a drug and/or alcohol detox.

This cleanses your body of the toxins that have built up over time, which ultimately improves your health and brain functions. You will be sharper, more alert, and better able to analyze complex information and make decisions. Rehab will help you become a better employee.

Next Steps: Seeking Help for Addiction

The decision to enter treatment for substance abuse is not an easy one to make. However, by proactively taking the necessary steps to get healthy, you are investing in your future. Since your employer has the right to fire you for substance abuse if it has negatively impacted job performance, seeking treatment is the best way to protect your job and get healthy. Talk to an addiction specialist about treatment options.

Keep in mind that the laws that protect you under the Americain’s with Disability Act can vary by situation. Don’t do anything rash before talking to some with expert knowledge. For example, in most cases, you need to be employed for at least one year to qualify. 

Alcoholism and Addiction Resources

Job Accommodation Network
West Virginia University
PO Box 6080
Morgantown, WV 26506-6080 Toll-Free: (800)526-7234 TTY: (877)781-9403
Fax: (304)293-5407 jan@AskJAN.org

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a free consulting service that provides information about job accommodations, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the employability of people with disabilities.

Office of Disability Employment Policy
200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Room S-1303 Washington, DC 20210
Toll-Free: (866)633-7365
TTY: (877)889-5627
Fax: (202)693-7888

The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Labor. ODEP provides national leadership to increase employment opportunities for adults and youth with disabilities while striving to eliminate barriers to employment.

We love getting phone calls 800-673-5950

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Do you have a question about addiction, disability, the ADA or something else?