addiction and alcoholism – Americans with Disability Act

Here is a common question I get — “I am addicted to drugs and I need help to get sober; if I go to a 30-day treatment center will I be fired from my job?”.

How the Americans with Disabilities Act Protects You from Termination

Drug and alcohol abuse and dependence are classified as treatable illnesses by both “standard” diagnostic medical manuals. For your reference these are called the DSM-IV and ICD-IO. However, many employers do not realize that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with drug and alcohol problems against discrimination in employment. The ADA also protects people who are participating in a supervised drug rehabilitation program, have completed a treatment program, or have been rehabilitated and are not longer using drugs illegally.

This is good news, if you are struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction and considering entering a treatment program. You can get help, without fear of discrimination. Now, the bad news: if your job performance has declined because of drugs or alcohol use, your employer has the right to fire you if they can prove that your performance declined. Your employer also has the right to test you for drugs and fire you for drug use.

From a practical standpoint, the longer you delay treatment, the more you stand to lose. In fact, the best way to protect your job is to enter rehab. If you do this, the Americans with Disabilities Act can protect you from being fired.

Job drugs
If you get caught on the job, using illegal drugs you can (and probably will) be fired. If you seek treatment, due to a drug addiction, you are protected under the ADA.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of life, including the workforce. A person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities. Title I defines what qualifies as a disability to include individuals who struggle with substance use, including alcoholism and drug addiction. If you decide to enter an addiction treatment program, you cannot be fired for past errors or poor job performance.

Keep in mind that the ADA does not protect individuals who are actively using drugs from being fired. Your employer has the right to test you for drugs and fire you if you are found to be using. Listen carefully, it is in your best interest to enter a drug or alcohol rehab program as soon as possible since the ADA will only protect you if you are in a treatment program and seeking recovery.

What Will Happen to My Job While in Rehab?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, once you choose to enter rehab, your employer is required to make reasonable accommodations. This includes changing your work schedule so you can attend Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can also help to protect you from losing your job while you are in treatment. The FMLA allows eligible employees to take an unpaid leave of absence for up to 12 weeks within a 12-month period. If you enter a 30-day inpatient rehab program, for example, the FMLA will protect you from being fired from your job.

If you have short-term disability insurance, you may also be able to receive pay under this insurance for the time that you are away from work and in treatment. Another option is to use accrued vacation time so you can still receive a paycheck.

Before entering treatment, a common concern is that being away from work will cause skills to diminish. It’s natural to worry about what may happen while you are “out of the game”, especially in highly competitive fields such as finance, sales, or law. In truth, seeking treatment will actually help to improve your skills. When you enter a treatment center, the first step is traditionally a drug and/or alcohol detox. This cleanses your body of the toxins that have built up over time, which ultimately improves your health and brain functions. You will be sharper, more alert, and better able to analyze complex information and make decisions. Rehab will help you become a better employee.

Next Steps: Seeking Help

The decision to enter treatment for substance abuse is not an easy one to make. However, by proactively taking the necessary steps to get healthy, you are investing in your future. Since your employer has the right to fire you for substance abuse if it has negatively impacted job performance, seeking treatment is the best way to protect your job and get healthy. Talk to an addiction specialist about treatment options.


Job Accommodation Network
West Virginia University
PO Box 6080
Morgantown, WV 26506-6080 Toll Free: (800)526-7234 TTY: (877)781-9403
Fax: (304)293-5407
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a free consulting service that provides information about job accommodations, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the employability of people with disabilities.

Office of Disability Employment Policy
200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Room S-1303 Washington, DC 20210
Toll Free: (866)633-7365
TTY: (877)889-5627
Fax: (202)693-7888

The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Labor. ODEP provides national leadership to increase employment opportunities for adults and youth with disabilities while striving to eliminate barriers to employment.
Our 800RecoveryHub site offers free and confidential help

3 thoughts on “addiction and alcoholism – Americans with Disability Act

  1. Reblogged this on #Uniteforsupport and commented:
    It is imperative that addicts and their supporters have all the knowledge they can when it comes to this disease. There are options…there are resources available and there are laws to protect addicts. Do the research, reach out to others and arm yourself with the best defense you can because the journey will not be a fight…it will be a war!


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