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Wasted at work? You don’t have to tolerate it!

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in Employee Benefits Program,Firing,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Some employers foolishly worry that they may violate the ADA or the FMLA if they enforce a zero-tolerance policy that forbids employees to work under the influence of alcohol. The simple reality is that employers have every right to expect workers to show up sober in the morning.

Furthermore, being an alcoholic is no excuse.

Note: Keep in mind that the FMLA probably applies if a doctor certifies that an employee needs inpatient treatment for alcohol abuse.

Recent case: Diane Ames worked for a Home Depot store and told her supervisor that she thought she had a problem with alcohol. He referred her to the company’s employee assistance program. She began counseling through the program and also signed an agreement acknowledging that she could be fired if she tested positive on a blood-alcohol test.

One day, she showed up at work allegedly smelling of alcohol and acting out of character. Her supervisor sent her to take a blood test. About the same time, Ames began looking for an inpatient alcohol treatment program, since she had also recently been arrested for driving under the influence. Home Depot fired her when the blood test came back positive for alcohol.

Ames sued, charging that she should have been granted FMLA leave for treatment. By firing her, she argued, she couldn’t exercise her right to take that leave.

The court agreed with Ames that inpatient treatment would qualify for FMLA leave—but it dismissed the lawsuit anyway. It reasoned that Home Depot had fired Ames for a separate and legitimate reason—testing positive for alcohol in her system while at work. That violated a company rule. (Ames v. Home Depot, No. 08-CV-6060, ND IL, 2009)

Final note: You can always punish rule-breaking behavior, even if that behavior may be related to a serious health condition or a disability.

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