A Drop of Compassion is what an Individual Suffering of Alcoholism Needs.

Elga Lejarza-Penn

Alcoholism, also called “alcohol dependence,” is a disease that includes four symptoms: craving (a strong need, or compulsion, to drink), loss of control (the inability to limit one’s drinking on any given occasion), physical dependence (withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, occur when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking), and tolerance (the need to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to “get high”). Alcoholism treatment works for many people, but just like any chronic disease, there are varying levels of success when it comes to treatment. Alcoholism treatment programs use both counseling and medications to help a person stop drinking.

Is Alcoholism protected by the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act may protect a “qualified” individual who suffers of alcoholism who can meet the definition of “disability.”An individual with a disability is a person who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  • Has a record of such an impairment; or
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

Who is a “qualified” individual who suffers of alcoholism? Someone who can perform the essential functions of the job with or without accommodation.

If you would like to learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as laws that that do or could impact you as an HR Professional while earning continuing education credits towards your SHRM or HRCI certification please join me at one of my upcoming Certificate Program Trainings on topics such as FMLA, ADA, Pregnancy Descrimination, Employment Laws, Interviewing Skills, OSHA and Sexual Harassment Law and Investigation Techniques.

If you would like to learn more about our SHRM-CP®, SHRM-SCP®, aPHR™, PHR®, SPHR® Exam Prep Courses and Boot Camps please check out our upcoming Exam Prep Trainings and check out our Student Testimonials and Success Stories.

What should an employer do if an employee mentions alcoholism, or requests accommodation, for the first time in response to discipline for unacceptable performance or conduct?

The employer may impose the same discipline that it would for any other employee who fails to meet its performance standard or who violates a uniformly-applied conduct rule. If the appropriate disciplinary action is termination, the ADA would not require further discussion about the employee’s disability or request for accommodation.

An employee whose poor performance or conduct is attributable to alcoholism may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation, separate from any disciplinary action the employer chooses to impose and assuming the discipline for the infraction is not termination. If the employee only mentions the alcoholism but makes no request for accommodation, the employer may ask if the employee believes an accommodation would prevent further problems with performance or conduct. If the employee requests an accommodation, the employer should begin an “interactive process” to determine if an accommodation is needed to correct the problem. This discussion may include questions about the connection between the alcoholism and the performance or conduct problem. The employer should seek input from the employee on what accommodations may be needed and also may offer its own suggestions. Possible reasonable accommodations may include a modified work schedule to permit the employee to attend an on-going self-help program.

Example: An employer has warned an employee several times about her tardiness. The next time the employee is tardy, the employer issues her a written warning stating one more late arrivals will result in termination. The employee tells the employer that she is an alcoholic, her late arrivals are due to drinking on the previous night, and she recognizes that she needs treatment. The employer does not have to rescind the written warning and does not have to grant an accommodation that supports the employee’s drinking, such as a modified work schedule that allows her to arrive late in the morning due to the effects of drinking on the previous night. However, absent undue hardship, the employer must grant the employee’s request to take leave for the next month to enter a rehabilitation program.

Again, engaging in the interactive process and having an accommodation mindset is the key. Let’s not be so quick to judge a person who suffers from alcoholism, please remember that what they need is a drop of compassion and understanding of their disability.

If you would like to learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as laws that that do or could impact you as an HR Professional while earning continuing education credits towards your SHRM or HRCI certification please join me at one of my upcoming Certificate Program Trainings on topics such as FMLA, ADA, Pregnancy Descrimination, Employment Laws, Interviewing Skills, OSHA and Sexual Harassment Law and Investigation Techniques.

If you would like to learn more about our SHRM-CP®, SHRM-SCP®, aPHR™, PHR®, SPHR® Exam Prep Courses and Boot Camps please check out our upcoming Exam Prep Trainings and check out our Student Testimonials and Success Stories.

Elga Lejarza-Penn, aPHR, PHR, SPHR, SHRM-CP, SHRM-SCP

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *