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Employee is wasted at work? You don’t have to tolerate it!

by on
in Employee Benefits Program,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

It’s true that the ADA and FMLA require you to accommodate employees with medical ailments—even employees recovering from alcoholism. But take note: You certainly can enforce a zero-tolerance policy that forbids employees to work while under the influence of alcohol.

Employers have every right to expect workers to show up sober in the morning. 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: Home Depot employee Diane Ames told her boss that she thought she had a problem with alcohol. He referred her to the company’s employee assistance program. She began counseling and 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 boss sent her to take a blood test. About the same time, Ames began looking for an inpatient alcohol treatment program. 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.

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

Bottom line: 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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