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Past Substance Addiction and Discrimination


When an employee has an addiction issue or has a past history of destructive drug and alcohol use, they may be wondering if that information can be used against them by their employer. There are times when a worker is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) from discrimination in the workplace, but the protection does not apply in all situations.

If you have questions about how your addiction history could be legally used against you by your employer, talk to a Columbus employment discrimination attorney. Disability protection under the ADA has specific constraints. An experienced disability discrimination lawyer can assess your situation and determine what options you have to protect your rights.

Reasonable Requests for Rehabilitation   

While addiction is a type of disease, the ADA will not protect employees who are using drugs and alcohol currently. But, if an employee is not actively using, protections may be available. For example, participation in a recovery program would be protected and an employer cannot discriminate against an individual who is no longer using drugs and alcohol. Discriminating against a worker because of their history of substance abuse and addiction is illegal disability discrimination.

Part of the reason that current drug and alcohol abuse may not be protected is because employers should hold all employees to the same standards. This includes workers with addiction issues. In the majority of work situations, employees are not permitted to drink alcohol beverages or use drugs. This is true for employees who do and do not have addiction issues.

There are times when a person who wants to seek help will choose to enroll in a rehabilitation program. An employer should grant a worker the time off to do so, provided the request is reasonable and does not cause hardship for the company. If an employer could prove it would suffer undue hardship if the employee were to take time off for the rehabilitation program, then the request could be denied. However, the employee may have the right to such medical leave under the FMLA of ADA.

Illegal Drug Issues Can Be More Complicated

Drug addiction is protected by the ADA but there are factors that need to be proven in order to claim these legal protections. In order for a person to be considered for protection they need to be in recovery for drug addiction, and the following need to be established.

  • Individuals are no longer using drugs.
  • The person is active in a rehabilitation program that is supervised.
  • Or, when applicable, the individual has rehabilitated from their substance abuse history.

Just as the ADA does not protect workers who are currently abusing alcohol, the same is true for employees currently using illegal drugs.

So, for example, if an employer requires drug tests and a worker fails because they are struggling with a drug addiction, they may not be protected by the ADA unless there is additional disability information.

Do you think you were discriminated against because of your disability – past addiction issues? Contact the disability discrimination lawyers at Coffman Legal LLC today. We are strong and committed advocates for all Ohio workers and use our experience and knowledge to help you. Call 614-949-1181 for a free and confidential consultation with a disability discrimination attorney.


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