Yes, alcoholism is a recognized disability under both federal and state law, but whether or not you will be successful in your lawsuit depends on the circumstances. You are definitely not alone in your struggles with alcoholism and the workplace. In December, the former head football coach at the University of Southern California sued his former employer, claiming he was wrongfully terminated because of his alcoholism.
The lawsuit claims that he was fired in October 2015, after taking a leave of absence in order to seek treatment for alcoholism. By law, alcoholism is a recognized disability under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Those laws prohibit employers from discriminating against employees with disabilities. Disabilities are defined as medical conditions that limit a major life activity.
By law, if an employee has a disability, the employer is required to make reasonable accommodations in order to help the disabled employee perform the job. If an accommodation substantially disrupts an employer’s business practices or requires changes to essential job responsibilities, it is not considered reasonable. An example of a reasonable accommodation would be to allow a diabetic employee to take frequent breaks to test his or her blood and/or to take insulin. An example of an accommodation that would not be considered reasonable is to require a small business to move in order to accommodate an employee in a wheelchair.
Whether or not the coach will be successful in his case against USC will depend on whether or not he can prove the school failed to offer him a reasonable accommodation. It’s likely the school will claim that they gave him a leave of absence in order for him to address his alcoholism. If USC can prove that they did offer him a reasonable accommodation, and that he was unable, even with the accommodation, to perform all of the necessary and essential job functions, the coach is unlikely to prevail in his lawsuit.
In your situation, whether or not you can win a disability discrimination case against your employer or former employer will depend on the facts. Although an employer is required to offer you a reasonable accommodation, an employer is not required to continue to employ you if your alcoholism makes you unable to do the major functions of the job. For example, an employer could be required to allow you to take time off to enter rehab or to attend AA meetings. An employer is not required, for example, to allow you to interact with customers while intoxicated or to let you come in late with a hangover when mornings are the busiest time at the workplace.
An employer also cannot harass you because you have a disability or have had a disability in the past. However, occasional offhand comments or lighthearted teasing that is not very serious are not illegal.
At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty and Seth I. Rosenberg believe that no employee should be discriminated against or harassed because of a disability, including alcoholism. If you have been discriminated against or harassed in the workplace, call the Oakland disability discrimination attorneys at Liberty Law at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. You may be entitled to lost wages, benefits, and damages for your emotional distress. We work with clients throughout the Oakland- San Francisco area, including Hayward, Tracy, Fairfield, Berkeley, San Jose, Sacramento, and the surrounding areas. Call today to learn how we can help you with your situation.