Alcoholism: Be prepared to accommodate it under both the ADA and the FMLA.

AuthorDavenport, Anniken, Esq.

Responding to the latest federal Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, more than half of U.S. adults reported drinking alcohol in the previous 30 days. Nearly 17% reported imbibing enough alcohol to qualify as binge drinkers (having four to five drinks on a single occasion) and 6% reported heavy drinking (eight to 15 drinks per week).

One study placed the overall cost of alcohol abuse at more than $249 billion per year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says employers bear 72% of that cost because of lost productivity.

ADA- and FMLA-covered

Alcoholism is an addictive disorder that may qualify for protection under the ADA and FMLA. Though estimates vary, about one in every 12 adults may meet the technical definition of alcoholism (now usually called alcohol use disorder). It's generally defined as a progressive and potentially fatal condition characterized by impaired control over drinking alcohol despite negative consequences, increased tolerance and distorted thinking.

The ADA requires employers to reasonably accommodate disabled employees. To be disabled--and therefore eligible for accommodations--individuals must have a physical or mental condition that substantially impacts a major life activity such as walking, breathing, concentrating, remembering, sleeping and getting along with others.

The FMLA lets employees with serious health conditions take time off for treatment. A serious health condition is one that requires hospitalization or continued medical treatment.

Accommodating alcoholism

An alcohol-dependent worker may exhibit a number of behavioral and addictive behaviors at work.

According to the Mayo Clinic, these include being unable to limit alcohol consumption, spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from alcohol use, craving alcohol, missing work or other activities, using alcohol when doing...

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