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When substance abuse and job duties collide

On Behalf of | Jan 30, 2024 | ADA |

Recently, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that the struggles a natural gas plant worker had to accommodate classes for a 90-day substance abuse course following the worker’s third arrest for driving while intoxicated (DWI) were not violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In fact, upon notifying his manager and supervisor of his legal situation regarding his uncontrolled drinking, both initially helped him arrange to switch schedules with other workers. When no co-workers were available to swap hours for four of the classes held in the evenings, the worker was fired by the company.

Why the ADA didn’t protect him

There was no violation of the ADA because, as the lower court ruled, the fact that the worker was an alcoholic was not a disability under the grounds of the ADA. He then took his appeal to the 5th Circuit Court.

That appeal failed, at least in part, because although the worker alleged his employer failed to accommodate his struggles with drinking as a disability, it was incumbent upon the worker to make known to the employer that the time he requested off from work was due to his disability of alcoholism. But the first reference to the substance abuse condition was only made once the worker struggled with the real-life consequences of multiple arrests for DWI and how they affected his employment.

Court recognizes man’s alcoholism

Even while the 5th Circuit overturned the lower court’s finding that the man’s alcoholism was not a covered disability under the Act, it ruled that there was no intentional discrimination when the company terminated the worker because he could not cover his night shifts, part of his necessary tasks.

The final nail in the claim’s coffin came with this quote by the 5th Circuit, which stated, “failure to request an accommodation, particularly where an employee’s disability is not obvious, will doom a claim.”

If your business has been hit with an ADA compliance issue, it’s always best to find out more about your legal options.