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Employers and alcohol abuse

Every employer strives to maintain a safe and productive work environment, no matter if you are a small technology startup or a manufacturer with 500 employees. Part of this goal may involve a policy that prohibits employees from being under the influence of alcohol while at work or in the course of their duties.

While many employees will intuitively understand that being tipsy or buzzed at work may be against the rules or against company policy, there are others who will test the limits of what an employer may do to enforce such a policy. With that said, an employer may have questions about what to do with an employee who is breaking the rules. 

After all, it takes a “special” employee to willfully defy company policy unless there are underlying problems that drive his or her behavior, such as an alcohol dependency problem. When this problem is acknowledged, the employee may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, because alcoholism is considered to be a disability under the Act. With that said, what can employer do to protect itself and still hold an employee accountable?

The quick answer is “it depends.” Generally speaking, an employer may discipline an employee who has violated company policies regarding alcohol, or has performance issues that may be attributable to an alcohol abuse problem. However, if the employee mentions that he or she may need help to deal with the problem, it would be prudent for the employer to grant a reasonable accommodation so that the employee can deal with the problem and still keep their job.

Keep in mind that an employer is not required to establish employee assistance programs or provide an opportunity to participate in such a program in lieu of discipline. 

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