Chemically-Dependent Employee: Active Drug Abuse No Basis For Disability Discrimination Claim

   Quick Summary: A person who is actively engaging in the illegal use of drugs or who is actively alcoholic at the time of employment, or application for employment, is not a qualified individual with a disability.

   Not being a qualified individual with a disability, as defined by law, a person engaging in substance abuse is not protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act from adverse employment action, and can be disciplined, fired or not hired in the first place, because of current substance abuse.

   A person who has successfully participated in a supervised rehabilitation program, and who no longer engages in substance abuse, is a qualified individual with a disability, and may not be subjected to employment discrimination on the basis of past drug- or alcohol-related behavior.

   For a job which requires dependability and reliability, employers can make pre-employment inquiries about drug- and alcohol-related problems.   UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT, MISSISSIPPI, 1996.

   Employers are entitled under the law to hold all employees to the same standards of conduct and performance, including employees who are engaging in illegal drug use or who are actively alcoholic.

   The Americans With Disabilities Act (AWDA) does not require employers to give any special concessions to employees whose poor job performance, absenteeism, negligence and other sub-standard behaviors are the result of their substance abuse, according to a recent ruling handed down by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. The court upheld the firing of an infectious disease specialist from his position with the state department of health over on-going problems stemming from unresolved addiction to crack cocaine.

   The fired employee had completed a thirty-day inpatient drug rehab program. He claimed on that basis he was protected from job bias for his addiction, as the AWDA protects successfully rehabilitated substance abusers by defining them as disabled individuals under the law who cannot be discriminated against.

   After graduating from an inpatient treatment program, however, this employee resumed active crack cocaine abuse and returned to his old habits of poor job performance. He had nominally completed a drug rehab program, but as a relapsed active drug abuser he was not considered a qualified individual with a disability and had no right to put forth a claim of disability discrimination over his termination.

   The policy behind the AWDA is to eradicate, not to enable, drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace, especially among workers like healthcare professionals whose impairments would "thrust upon the public an unnecessary peril," the court ruled. Thomas vs. Mississippi Department of Health, 934 F. Supp. 768 (S.D. Miss., 1996).

Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession(4)15 Dec 96    PDF Version