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Can My Boss Fire Me For Going to Alcohol Anonymous (AA)?

Alcoholism is a chronic disease that affects more than three million people each year. It potentially could result in a multitude of issues such as binge drinking, problems controlling one’s drinking, aggression, or a habitual use of alcohol regardless of the consequences. Whether alcoholism or other related issues are considered disabilities under the law, will determine your rights in the workplace.

Law Relating to Alcoholism and Other Related Issues The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protect the rights of people with disabilities, including their rights at work. Under both the ADA and the FEHA, employers are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities or perceived disabilities. A critical first step in determining whether you are protected under the ADA and the FEHA is learning whether your specific condition is considered a disability. Under the ADA, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Similarly, the FEHA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that limits a major life activity. In other words, a person who has a recognized impairment, or is perceived by others as having an impairment, is considered to have a disability.  Both the ADA and FEHA recognize alcoholism as a disability. This means that people who suffer from alcoholism are entitled to the same protections as people with other qualifying disabilities. It is important to note that the ADA and FEHA exclude people who are actively using illegal drugs from its definition of disability. This means the laws will not protect people who are addicted to drugs if they are still using while attempting to assert their rights under the ADA. However, a person who is in recovery from drug addiction — and is not currently using illegal drugs — may be considered to have a disability. In this case, if a person’s substance abuse disorder substantially limits one or more major life activities, it may be considered a disability. For Example:

Mike and Dale both work for the same company. Dale is an alcoholic, while Mike has a current opioid addiction. Under both the FEHA and ADA, Dale is considered a person with a disability. However, due to the fact Mike is actively using, his employer may be able to fire Mike for his addiction without facing a disability discrimination lawsuit. Mike is only protected by the FEHA and the ADA to the extent that he is not currently using opiates illegally. Conversely, if Dale is still drinking alcohol, his employer may face a lawsuit if he fires him for being an alcoholic.

Can I Be Fired for Going to Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous?

A bedrock principle of many recovery groups, including Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is confidentiality. Members of these groups abide by a rule to not disclose the names of other members, or what was discussed at meetings. This principle is critical, given the stigma often associated with addiction. However, there are situations where a person may be outed as a member of NA or AA. This could be intentional, or it may happen by accident.

For Example:

If Mike’s boss happens to be walking by just as Mike gets out of a NA meeting, he might discover that Mike is in the group. 

Due to the fact alcoholism is considered a disability under both federal and state law, and drug addiction may be considered a disability if a person is in recovery, it may be illegal for your employer to fire you for going to NA or AA. If you are fired for going to NA, AA, or otherwise working to stay clean and sober, then you may be able to file a disability discrimination lawsuit against your employer, with the help of an experienced Orange County employment lawyer.

Can I Take a Leave to Seek Treatment?

Substance abuse disorder can be a difficult disease to treat. For many people, recovery starts with participating in a rehabilitation program. Under California law, the right to take leave to voluntarily seek alcohol and drug rehabilitation is guaranteed. This law applies to all private employers who regularly employ 25 or more employees. The right to take leave for rehabilitation is considered a “reasonable accommodation” for an employee with a disability. Other reasonable accommodations for a substance abuse disorder may include allowing an employee to take time off of work to seek treatment or adjusting a work schedule to allow for treatment. It is important to understand that although taking a leave to seek treatment is protected under California law, your employer is not required to pay you during your time off of work. However, permitting an employee to use sick days for treatment is an additional reasonable accommodation that could be provided by the employer.  If your employer retaliates against you for taking protected leave for any reason relating to alcoholism or being a recovering addict, you may be able to file a claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or pursue a lawsuit against your employer. For more information on disability discrimination, visit our website here. If you have any questions in regards to your employment rights, reach out to us today by calling 949-771-8173 or emailing us at rob@odelllaw.com for a free consultation.

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