I have an addiction problem. It’s bad enough that I’ve got to go into a residential rehab program for a few weeks. I want to tell my boss, but I’m afraid to. Can I be fired for this?
First of all, congratulations on facing your problem and starting to conquer it. Different addictions are treated differently by the EEOC. According to Burt Fishman, an attorney with Fortney & Scott, LLC, and one the nation’s leading authorities on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “Alcoholism is considered a disability, which entitles you to protection from discrimination under the ADA. Current illegal use of drugs is not considered a disability; however, if you are no longer using drugs and are participating in or wish to join a rehabilitation program, you can seek that as an accommodation for a recognized disability.”
In short, if you present yourself as taking steps to recover from alcohol or drug addiction, firing you on the basis of your going to rehab would be discriminatory. Still, your employer is only required to offer a “reasonable accommodation” for your disability; there needs to be a date when you emerge from treatment, no longer disabled.
Meanwhile remember that if your behavior doesn’t comply with personnel policies, you can be terminated for cause, regardless of your disability. The way to keep your job is to stick to your program and toe the line at work.
Published in Associations Now, March 2006