Advocacy

Fair Treatment of Persons Whose Job Performance is Impaired by Alcoholism and Other Drug Addiction

Adoption Date:
October 1, 1996; rev. April 1, 2009

Public Policy Statement on Fair Treatment of Persons Whose Job Performance is Impaired by Alcoholism and Other Drug Addiction

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Background

Although alcoholism and other drug addiction are recognized as diseases that cause disability, and although it has been demonstrated that intervention through employee assistance programs in the workplace is a cost-effective means to bring recovery, legislation dating from the 1970s and 1990s failed to incorporate protection for those with substance use disorders. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 sets an important stage for change in the application of the earlier acts.

The Federal Alcohol Abuse Act of 1970 ("Hughes Act") recognized alcoholism as an "illness requiring treatment and rehabilitation," and granted rights to Federal employees with alcoholism. The Drug Abuse Act of 1972 did the same for persons suffering from other drug addiction. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibited discrimination against the disabled in Federally-funded employment was interpreted to include addictive disorders.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) extended employment protection for the disabled to the private sector, but in doing so, specifically excluded persons with alcoholism and other drug addiction from the requirement that they be offered an opportunity for treatment when job performance difficulties (e.g., absenteeism, tardiness) are a result of their illness. A decision by the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in March 1996 ruled that Federal agencies are not required to offer an employee a "firm choice" between treatment for alcoholism and discharge, as is the case for employees with other illnesses; employers may terminate the employee even when the employment deficiency in question is known to be addiction-related. This determination was based on the exclusionary language relative to addiction in the ADA. Unless this decision is overturned and the ADA is amended, employed persons with addiction will not be offered the same workplace rights as other employees or provided a critical opportunity for recovery.

Recommendations

Therefore, the American Society for Addiction Medicine recommends:

1. In accordance with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (HR 1424), Congress should amend the Americans with Disabilities Act and other related laws to remove language that discriminates against persons with alcoholism or other drug addiction. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, alcoholism and other drug addiction should be categorized as potentially disabling conditions. The law should extend to persons with addiction the same protection that applies to persons with other disabilities, in both public and private sector employment, by offering them the option of treatment.

2. Employees whose job performance is impaired by alcoholism and/or other drug addiction should have the same protection under the law as employees disabled by other diseases, and they should be offered the opportunity for treatment/rehabilitation. In order for this to be effectively implemented, the following should occur:

a) Work environments should foster a climate which encourages individuals with alcoholism and other drug addiction to come forward for help in the knowledge that they will receive support and fair treatment.

b) Key personnel should be educated and trained about screening, assessment and referral, and seamless mechanisms should be developed to facilitate addiction treatment.

c) The confidentiality of employees with addiction should be respected and their medical information should be accorded the same protections as other medical information as described in the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

d) Reasonable accommodations in the workplace, as defined by the ADA, should be made for employees undergoing treatment for addictive disorders.

3. ASAM should serve as a resource to organizations and individuals interested in promoting the recovery of persons suffering from addiction in order to work toward these changes.

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