Human Resources News & Insights

Alcoholism and the ADA: Not as clear-cut as you think

When an employee struggles with alcoholism, does he qualify as disabled? 

Alcoholic — and more

David Crosby, who worked as a driver for F.W. Webb Co., had been struggling for years with alcohol abuse when he also began to experience anxiety and insomnia.

Eventually, things got bad enough that Crosby took FMLA leave and checked himself into a residential alcohol treatment program.

While there, Crosby was tested and found to have “significant impairment of functioning in multiple areas, including occupational, social, familial and educational impairment.”

Crosby finished rehab, but relapsed shortly thereafter when his wife divorced him.

Crosby eventually returned to work as a driver, even though his license had expired. (Crosby claimed he didn’t know.) Crosby eventually got it renewed, but the company opted to terminate him for driving without a license for two days.

Was it illegal?

So Crosby sued, claiming the company failed to accommodate his disability — alcoholism.

Now, remember what the Americans with Disabilities Act says: Companies can’t take an adverse employment action against a disabled employee due to the disability.

Where does that come in here? Crosby claimed that the company had allowed non-alcoholic drivers to drive without licenses in the past without any repercussions.

Worse: Crosby pointed to several workers whose licenses had been suspended for driving under the influence — and who were able to remain with the company as warehouse workers.

The court said that was enough to deny summary judgment and send the case to trial.

The takeaway

Eric B. Meyer from The Employer Handbook had the following tips on dealing with an alcoholic employee:

While alcoholism may be a disability and, therefore, may trigger an obligation on the part of the employer to reasonably accommodate that disability, an employer can discipline, discharge or deny employment to an alcoholic whose use of alcohol adversely affects job performance or conduct. An employer also may prohibit drinking booze at work.

The case is Crosby v. F.W. Webb Co. 

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