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3 key questions about the ADA and substance abuse

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When you suspect that an employee has a drug or alcohol abuse problem that is affecting job performance, be careful not to mishandle the situation. In some cases, the ADA may be a factor. Here are three key questions and answers, provided by the EEOC:

Q. Does the ADA cover applicants or employees using illegal drugs?

A. No. Individuals currently engaged in illegal drug use are specifically excluded from the definition of a “qualified individual with a disability” protected by the ADA when the employer takes action because of their drug use.

Q. Is testing for the illegal use of drugs permissible under the ADA?

A. Yes. A test for the illegal use of drugs is not considered a medical examination under the ADA. Therefore, employers may test applicants or employees and make employment decisions based on the results. If the results reveal the presence of a lawfully prescribed drug or other medical information, such information must be treated as a confidential medical record.

Q. Does the ADA cover alcoholics?

A. Yes. An alcoholic is a person with a disability and is protected by the ADA if he or she is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job. You may be required to provide an accommodation to an alcoholic, e.g., time off to attend AA meetings. However, you can discipline, discharge or deny employment to someone whose drinking adversely affects job performance or conduct. An employer also may prohibit the use of alcohol in the workplace and can require that employees not be under the influence of alcohol.

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