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Can My Employer Find Out if I am Researching Alcohol Rehab Options?

If you are an alcoholic seeking treatment, it is certainly possible that your employer will find out. The more important questions are, “What can my employer legally do about it?” and “What will my employer do about it?”

Some federal laws protect workers who are seeking treatment for alcoholism. Additionally, some states have laws that encourage workers to seek treatment without fear of losing their jobs. However, these laws are not iron-clad protection against dismissal, since employers also have the right to dismiss employees whose work is inadequate due to alcoholism.

Alcohol Addiction Help and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects workers against dismissal due to disability and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees. However, under the ADA alcoholism is defined as impairment, not disability. A court may accept alcoholism as disability in some cases, but the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to establish that her alcoholism qualifies as disability under the ADA’s definition of disability. In most cases courts have denied that the plaintiff’s alcoholism qualifies as disability.

Furthermore, even if the court accepts a specific case of alcoholism as disability, a clause in the ADA states that employers are not required to make reasonable accommodations to employees who are illegal drug users or alcoholics. Thanks to progressive thinking and the recognition of alcoholism as a disease that requires treatment, along with fear of liability for wrongful dismissal under the ADA, many employers will grant an employee unpaid time off to attend rehab. However, employers are well within their rights to dismiss an employee who does not take advantage of opportunities for treatment, or whose alcoholism continues to cause problems in the workplace. The bottom line is that alcoholic employees may be granted protection under the ADA, but the courts have a tremendous amount of latitude in rendering a decision.

The Family Medical Leave Act and Addiction Recovery

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is clearer in its guidelines regarding alcoholism. The FMLA prevents an employer from dismissing an employee for extended absence while in treatment for alcoholism. Again, however, the law does not protect employees who abuse alcohol at work or whose alcoholism prevents them from doing their job.

Legal Advice When Choosing Alcohol Addiction help

Current thinking accepts alcoholism as a disease that requires treatment, and contends that it is in the best interest of the employee, the employer and society at large for alcoholics to seek treatment. Many employers are in line with this school of thought and make efforts to facilitate recovery. Additionally, the ADA, FMLA and certain state laws are designed to protect workers and encourage them to seek treatment without holding employers to unreasonable and potentially ruinous standards of leniency. However, this can be a difficult balancing act and sometimes results in litigation.

If you are in doubt about your employer’s response to your treatment for alcoholism, seek legal advice. If you have questions or would like more information, please call our toll-free 24 hour helpline.