Roughly 18 million Americans suffer from alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse, commonly referred to as alcoholism. Alcoholism can destroy an individual’s personal and professional life. It also has the potential to negatively affect job performance. Additionally, even if alcohol dependency or abuse does not directly affect your job performance, it can still be the source of problems at work. For instance, co-workers and supervisors may perceive an individual who does not abuse alcohol or suffer from alcoholism, as suffering from alcohol dependency. These perceptions can change the way an individual is treated in the workplace, affect advancement potential and the way tasks are assigned, as well as having individuals taken off assignments or removed from positions of responsibility without independent cause. These are all various types of adverse employment action that can give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination.
Unlawful discrimination against alcoholics in the workplace can appear in many forms. This type of discrimination can exist even before an individual holds a specific job. Examples of pre-employment discrimination include when someone is not hired because of past alcohol related problems, or a potential employer asking questions about medical history or previous substance abuse treatment and basing their hiring decision on this information. As recovering alcoholics are aware, there is no cure for alcohol abuse and dependency. Rather, it is a daily struggle to stay sober. In addition, there is strong societal stigma associated even with recovering alcoholics that can detrimentally affect employment prospects. This is particularly true if there are instances of previous employment misconduct stemming from alcohol dependency that follows a recovering alcoholic around professionally.
Conversely, once hired, if an employee is fired or pushed out because he or she must seek recovery for alcoholism, this is another face of discrimination suffered by alcoholics. The American with Disabilities Act protects individuals who have successfully completed or are participating in a substance abuse treatment plan. This means seeking recovery for alcohol dependency is not a lawful cause for dismissal.
Those suffering from alcohol dependency and alcoholism often face the additional struggle of dealing with depression or mental illness (please see our section on depression for specific information on disability discrimination against individuals suffering from depression). Alcohol abuse and dependency can be a form of self-medicating or be coupled with untreated mental illness. These additional struggles also have the potential to independently effect an individual’s performance at work and may force individuals to miss days of work. Therefore, when paired with alcoholism can having a devastating effect on an individual’s ability to successfully earn a living. Having a dual diagnosis; mental illness and alcoholism, can make an individual particularly vulnerable to disability discrimination in the workplace. Not all adverse action is suspect, but pervasive adverse action in the workplace may rightfully give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination.
Persons that are alcoholics and that suffer from alcoholism are within a protected class under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). This protection means that if you suffer from alcohol dependency and are qualified to perform the essential functions of your job, but have still experienced adverse employment action, you should seek representation from a disability lawyer in New York.