Roughly 65% of American adults had a drink in the last year, according to a recent poll. Some go out to the bar for a beer with friends after work, while others enjoy a glass of wine or a tumbler of scotch with their dinner. For most, the drinking ends there. For others, though, even just one drink ignites a vicious cycle of obsession and compulsion that feels impossible to break. If you fall into the latter group, and fear that your drinking is getting out of control, there is a way out. Admitting your drinking problem, though, can feel dangerous — especially if you have to tell your boss. Luckily, there are many legal protections that can help you get sober and keep your job. Can you get fired for drinking? Read on to find out.

Can I Be Fired for Drinking? Understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

In 1990, the federal government passed a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. The definition of a disability includes both mental and physical medical conditions. Alcoholism and addiction both fall into this category, since the American Medical Association classified alcoholism as a disease in 1956, and addiction more generally as a disease in 1987.

As such, if you are struggling with alcoholism it is legally considered a disability and you are protected against employer discrimination. This includes protection against being fired. 

It is important to understand that just because you can’t be fired for being an alcoholic, you can and will be held to performance and conduct standards within the workplace. If you’re struggling with your drinking and it starts to negatively affect your job performance, if you show up to work intoxicated, or if you are found consuming alcohol at work, there’s not much the ADA can do for you.

This is why it’s so important to get ahead of your problem, go to your employer, and ask for help. You can’t lose your job over struggling with alcoholism and wanting to pursue addiction treatment. If your drinking affects your work, though, it’s a different story.

Can I Be Fired for Drinking? Don’t take the ADA for Granted

So, you’ve approached your employer about your issue with alcoholism and asked for help. You’ve expressed a desire to quit drinking and are actively pursuing treatment. These are all good things, and thankfully — under the ADA — you cannot lose your job over them. However, when you make the decision to get help, be prepared to commit to your recovery.

This is important not only for your own health and wellbeing; but also, if you come back to work and continue to drink, you may be in trouble. This also holds true if you express to your employer that you are struggling with substance abuse and then don’t seek addiction treatment. In 2017, a legal precedent was set in which the definition of “an individual with a disability” does not include “an individual who is currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs”.

Actually seeking treatment is the key. Take the time to reflect. Be honest with yourself about your situation. If you want to heal your body, mind, spirit, and family, there are legal protections in place for you. But, if you do not want help and your drinking interferes with your work? Unfortunately, you are on your own. 

Can I Be Fired for Drinking? The Family and Medical Leave Act

Much like the ADA, the Family and Medical Leave Act was established to protect an employee’s right to leave work to pursue medical treatment. Included in the term “medical treatment” is the ability to seek addiction treatment. FMLA works by allowing eligible employees up to twelve weeks of unpaid time off to pursue help, while guaranteeing their job will still be there for them upon a return to work.

There are certain requirements surrounding FMLA, and it is important to check with your company about their FMLA benefits beforehand. The best way to find out about your company’s FMLA options is to contact your human resources department or the employee assistance program.  

Can I Be Fired for Drinking? Utilize Employee Assistance Programs

We’ve established that you’re protected against discrimination for struggling with alcohol and that FMLA can be used to seek treatment while keeping your job. The next step is finding help. It may be useful to contact your HR department and ask about an EAP. 

When you are stuck in a downward spiral of high-functioning alcoholism, it can feel like you are all alone and hopeless, but this is simply not true. Employers often offer human resource departments and employee assistance programs exactly for this kind of situation. You are not alone.

The role of an employee assistance program is to provide support and guidance during difficult times. They will help you find an appropriate treatment program, get you admitted, and even act as your advocate while you are away getting better. EAPs are on your side, so be honest and keep the lines of communication open. They can only help you if you’re willing to help yourself. 

Can I Be Fired for Drinking? Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and State Laws

A third layer of protection when seeking treatment for alcoholism is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision. The EEOC is a federal agency whose job is to enforce civil rights laws against workplace discrimination. This includes discrimination based on sex, gender, race, nationality, age, religion, and — most importantly in this case — disability. If, while working with your employer to get help, you feel as though you are being discriminated against, the EEOC is there to help you. 

Get Help for Drinking in IOP

Overall, our country has multiple levels of checks and balances in place to ensure that those that need help are able to get it without facing negative repercussions. With that said, it is also important to check your state’s disability laws. Certain states may have their own laws in place that offer more protection for an individual at the state level than the ADA does at the federal level. 

Ultimately, know that it is in your employer’s best interest to keep you healthy, happy, and performing at your very best. Struggling with alcoholism is an all-consuming health problem and requires the help and attention of professionals.

If you want help for drinking and are willing to get in front of the problem before it escalates, you have multiple options available: residential addiction treatment, IOP for drinking, and more. Give yourself a chance at recovery, happiness, and healing from the roots and give us a call. You deserve it.

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