Warning: Firing an Alcoholic May Violate the ADA

Warning: Firing an Alcoholic May Violate the ADA

Alcoholism is generally considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, so attorney Eric B. Meyer says employers should deal with alcoholic employees carefully, especially when it comes to firing them.

On The Employer Handbook, he discusses a recent federal court opinion in Maine involving David Crosby, who sued F.W. Webb for violating the ADA because it fired him after a 30-day period in rehab.

When Crosby began his inpatient treatment he was evaluated as having significant functional impairments, but Meyer says firing a disabled employee doesn’t automatically mean the employer broke the law.

He says F.W. Webb claimed it fired Crosby because he drove without a license for two days. Crosby argued the employer “had cut non-alcoholics slack for the same driving offenses.” He also demonstrated other drivers had their licenses suspended for driving while intoxicated and were still kept in warehouse positions.

Thus, Meyer says, there was enough evidence to “suspect” Crosby’s alcoholism was the motivating factor in his termination, so the court denied F.W. Webb’s motion for summary judgment and allowed the case to proceed.

While alcoholism may require employers to make reasonable accommodations, Meyer says it doesn’t mean they can’t discipline, discharge or deny employment to an alcoholic whose use of alcohol adversely affects job performance or conduct.

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