What Employers Need to Know if an Employee Suffers From Substance Abuse Issues

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September is “National Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Month,” a time to recognize and educate ourselves on the substance abuse disorders that over 20 million Americans live with every day.  For employers, the pervasive substance abuse problem in our country may be particularly relevant. Did you know that employers have their own options and responsibilities when dealing directly with an employee afflicted by addiction? 

Most employers nowadays have instituted firm drug and alcohol policies, but this does not mean that an employer is automatically permitted to sanction or terminate an employee with a substance abuse problem. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects qualified individuals with alcoholism, individuals in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse, and individuals who developed an addiction from the use of legal drugs such as opioids. It requires that the employer treat these individuals the same as they would treat individuals with any other qualifying disability and must provide them with reasonable accommodations when necessary. 

 Although an employer may be entitled to take actions to protect himself or herself  and his or her employees from the harms that can be associated with an individual employee suffering from addiction, exactly what actions are permissible can be a tough line to walk due to the protections afforded to employees in laws, like the ADA. Accordingly, employers should seek the advice of legal counsel to determine how best to approach an employee with substance abuse issues.  When confronted with an employee who admits to a substance abuse problem and requests an accommodation from his or her employer, the ADA requires the employer to engage in an interactive discussion with the employee about the accommodation. 

For further guidance on these issues, our office is here to help. Contact us today to schedule a time to meet.