Skip to main content

Addiction and the ADA: Coverage, Protections, and Recourse Against Discrimination

Written on December 2, 2022
Addiction and the ADA: Coverage, Protections, and Recourse Against Discrimination

Guest post by Veronica Gordon, a legal content writer who works with the Law Offices of J.B. Katz, P.C.

What is the American Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The American Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a disability as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities… a history or record of such an impairment, or… perceived by others as having such an impairment.”

Some examples of major life activities include caring for oneself, concentrating, sleeping, and working.  Based on this definition, addiction to alcohol or drugs can fall under the umbrella of disabilities and therefore may include protections under the ADA.

Protections are offered in different areas of the disabled person’s life, and this includes their employment status. If you are currently employed and are considering seeking treatment, do not let the fear of losing your job deter you from seeking help. Read this article to understand what employment protections and benefits may be available to you.

Employers have a right to not allow the use of illegal drugs and alcohol during work hours. They may also test their employees for the use of illicit drugs. But, based on the ADA, they cannot discriminate against an employee struggling with drug or alcohol addiction who meets certain criteria and asks for reasonable accommodations.  

Addiction Criteria for Protection Under ADA

Alcohol Addiction

In general, users of alcohol have more protection than those who use illicit drugs. According to the law, alcoholism can be considered a disability even if the individual is currently drinking.

Drug Addiction

Employees are not protected under the ADA if they are currently using illegal drugs. Illicit drug users are, however, protected if they meet one of the following criteria:

  • Are currently seeking treatment for addiction and are not using drugs
  • Have successfully completed a rehabilitation program and are no longer using drugs
  • Were wrongly accused of using drugs

Understanding what constitutes a “current user” can be confusing, and it is typically decided on a case-by-case basis. But the law makes clear that the ADA can not be used as a defense for people caught using drugs or alcohol at work. It is meant to encourage those struggling with addiction to seek treatment and prevent them from losing their employment. You can find more information regarding substance abuse coverage under the ADA here.

So, what exactly do these protections include?

Protections Under ADA Against Discrimination

Employees seeking alcohol or drug treatment must be reasonably accommodated by their employer as long as their request doesn’t cause the employer to suffer an undue hardship. The employer must also protect the privacy of the employee making the request.

Employers are not required to give sick time to an employee undergoing treatment. However, an employee may use the sick time they haven’t used to cover time away from their job to enter a rehabilitation program. Examples of reasonable accommodation may include working part-time hours, a modified work schedule, or an assignment to a new position. Employees can learn about what types of accommodations are available to them by making an appointment with their HR representative.

Recourse Against Discrimination

If a reasonable accommodation is not granted, employees can file a complaint with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. Basically, they can sue their employer if they are specifically denied their right to find a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program. In this case, they can hire an employment law attorney.

Author Bio: Veronica Gordon is a legal content writer who works with the Law Offices of J.B. Katz, P.C., a criminal defense law firm based in Breckenridge, Colorado.

We’re Here to Help

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and worried about how to navigate your rights under the ADA, we are here to provide referrals to legal partners such as the Law Offices of J.B. Katz, P.C., as well as to offer a wide array of treatment options. Contact us to learn more.