Where are we these days with respect to mind-altering substances and the workplace? Here’s the latest, with the “substances” discussed in alphabetical order. This blog post is guaranteed accurate™ for at least the next five minutes.
ALCOHOL. Alcohol is legal, which means that it is generally recognized as the most abused of substances. Employers can prohibit its use in the workplace and can prohibit employees from coming to work under the influence. That’s the easy part.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s more complicated. Alcohol is not an “illegal drug,” meaning that alcoholics who are “current users” do have some legal protections, but alcoholism is not as protected as, say, cancer.
It would violate the ADA for an employer to take action against an employee just because she was an alcoholic. (As an example, you wouldn’t want to fire the alcoholic employee for getting drunk at the office holiday party unless you fired everybody else who got drunk at the party, too.)
An employer may have to provide reasonable accommodations to an alcoholic employee, such as allowing time off for AA meetings or medical leave for the employee to enter a detox facility. (AA meeting time and detox time may also be covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act.)
On the other hand, it’s legal for the employer to take action against an employee whose alcohol abuse causes her to fail to meet attendance, performance, or behavior standards, even if the employee is an alcoholic. And there’s no duty to “accommodate” an alcoholic employee by letting her drink on the job or sleep at her desk because she’s too hung over to work.
If the employee just likes to drink and isn’t an alcoholic, then she’s not “disabled” within the meaning of the ADA and has no protection.