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Alcoholism isn’t always an ADA disability

by on
in Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Employers sometimes forget that just because a condition has a name and can be serious, it doesn’t always mean it’s a disability. That’s because the ADA requires an individualized assessment to see whether the condition substantially limits a major life function like walking, talking, seeing, breathing, working or taking care of oneself.

In one recent case, an admitted alcoholic who had undergone inpatient treatment was deemed not to be disabled under the ADA and therefore not entitled to reasonable accommodations.

Always assess each disabled employee individually before agreeing to accommodations.

Recent case: Mike Taylor admits he is an alcoholic. He had even undergone inpatient treatment for alcoholism and depression and attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. But when he asked for a transfer from Colorado to another state in order to be closer to his family, his employer said no.

Taylor sued, saying the rejection amounted to denying him the right to a reasonable accommodation.

The court disagreed. It looked at Taylor’s testimony. He claimed the only limitation caused by his admitted alcoholism was that he couldn’t associate with certain people (presumably those who drink alcohol) or play sports.

That wasn’t enough, the court concluded. And since he wasn’t disabled, he wasn’t entitled to any accommodation. His case was dismissed. (Taylor v. Union Pacific Railroad, No. 4:07-CV-00501, ED AR, 2008)

Final note: Of course, alcohol treatment is most likely a serious health condition under the FMLA, so taking time off for treatment qualifies as FMLA leave.

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