Question:

I have an employee who requested time off so that he can receive treatment for alcoholism. I know that this employee drinks a lot and I have always suspected that he drinks on the job, though I have no evidence of this. I am concerned now about letting him continue to work, and I would like to fire him. I heard, however, that he might be protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Is this true? Can I fire him? Do I have to let him take time off?

Answer:

Alcoholism is considered a disability under both the Americans With Disabilities Act (also known as the ADA), and the California version of the ADA, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. This means that in many cases, an employee’s alcoholism must be accommodated and that an employer may not discharge an employee because the employee is an alcoholic.

In your case, then, you should avoid discharging the employee because he is an alcoholic. Additionally, because he is disabled, you will probably have to permit the employee to take time off to be rehabilitated. The most common form of reasonable accommodation for an alcoholic employee is leave to get treatment for alcoholism.

It is important to remember, however, that an employer can discipline a disabled employee who engages in misconduct, even if the misconduct is caused by the disability. Thus, an employer may discipline an alcoholic employee if the employee drinks on the job, shows up to work under the influence, or has a poor attendance record, even if these problems are caused by the employee’s alcoholism.
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