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Can I Be Fired Just For Being A Recovering Addict?

On Behalf of | Feb 22, 2019 | Disability Discrimination, Employment Discrimination, Wrongful Termination |

Best Ohio Employment Discrimination Attorney Reply: Am I protected from discrimination and harassment at work if I’m a recovering drug addict? Can my boss fire me for being a recovered alcoholic? What should I do if I was fired today because my manager found out that I go to AA meetings after work?

As citizens of Ohio, many of us are acutely aware of the opioid epidemic and how it affects all of us. According to this study, Ohio is among the top five states with the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths. Many of us have lost loved ones to opioids or know someone who lost a loved one. The number of opioid-related deaths in Ohio is more than double the national rate. But, Ohio citizens are not the only people suffering. It’s safe to say that all of America, not just Ohio is impacted by the Opioid crisis in some shape or form.

However, Ohioans are resilient. Communities across the state and country are coming together to beat this epidemic that has such a strong grip on midwestern communities. Many communities are coming together to beat addiction and lift up recovering addicts. However, there’s a stigma that’s connected with addiction and recovering addicts, both drug and alcohol. This leaves a whole bunch of recovering addicts and alcoholics worried about what protections they may have, and if their past addictions can get them fired from their new job.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) specifically permits employers to ensure that the workplace is free from the illegal use of drugs and the use of alcohol. However, the ADA provides limited protection from discrimination for recovering drug abusers or alcoholics.

The ADA protects qualified individuals with disabilities. The ADA’s definition of “qualified individuals with a disability” specifically excludes employees and applicants who are currently using illegal drugs. However, the ADA does not exclude from its protection:

(a) successfully rehabilitated individuals who no longer engage in the illegal use of drugs;

(b) those who are currently participating in a rehabilitation program and no longer engage in the illegal use of drugs; and

(c) those who are mistakenly regarded by an employer, as an illegal drug user.

An employer may not discriminate against a person who has a history of drug addiction but who is not currently using drugs. To some, this policy may feel like recovering addicts are not worthy of this protection, or that this policy gives too much protection for drug users. BUT, it’s important to note that this only covers people who are not currently taking drugs. When the ADA was put in place, Congress recognized that there’s a certain stigma attached to recovering drug users or alcoholics. The main goal of this provision is to help recovering drug addicts and alcoholics get a “clean” start, and the stigma that may follow them from past use, should not be a factor in determining their current employment. Our employment lawyers have blogged about this discrimination issue in the past. (See Is Alcoholism A Disability Under The ADA?Lawyer: Is Drug And Alcohol Addiction Covered By The ADA?; and I Was Fired For Going To AA Meetings. ADA Violation?)

Our employment law lawyers strongly believe that those workers in recovery deserve a fair shot at gainful employment. There’s already enough pressure in recovery not to slip up. Employees should not have to worry about illegal discrimination, constantly looking over their shoulder to make sure no one finds out about their past addictions. An example of illegal discrimination against a recovering drug addict comes from Maryland. April Cox applied to work at Randstad in Maryland as a production laborer at one of the staffing agency’s clients. Randstad determined that April was qualified for the position, so they advanced her to the next level of the hiring process. As a part of this process, April had to submit a urine drug test.

The catch is that April was a part of a supervised methadone treatment plan for recovering methamphetamine addicts. As a part of April’s treatment plan she must participate in monthly counseling and urine drug testing. Knowing that she would not pass a drug test, April disclosed to her supervisor that she was a part of this medically supervised treatment plan.

April went back to work. A week later, the test results from April’s drug test came back. Unsurprisingly April failed her drug test. April attempted to offer documentation to her supervisor, complete with doctor’s notes and logs detailing her involvement and success in the program. In response, April’s supervisor said, “I’m sure we don’t hire people on methadone, but I will contact my supervisor.”

Some of our frequent employment lawyers’ blog readers may be thinking, “But wait, if she’s high on methadone at work, Randstad can fire her, right? Just a quick note on methadone: it’s just a maintenance medication that’s used to help individuals cope with opioid addiction and function in their daily lives. The medication specifically blocks the effects that make one feel high from heroin, morphine, and oxycodone. (Read more about methadone here).

April repeatedly tried to call the site manager and told them that she did not have any medical restrictions from performing the laborer job. April tried her hardest to return to work. Randstad told April that they would not hire her because she used methadone. Luckily, April knew her rights and knew that Randstad illegally discriminated against her. April filed a claim with the EEOC. However, April could have benefitted from consulting with an employment discrimination lawyer first. (See Top Employment Law Attorney: Do Not File With The EEOC Without Doing This FirstFile With The EEOC Or Get A Lawyer? Call The Right Attorney; Should I Get A Lawyer To Help Me File An EEOC Charge?; and Should I File With The EEOC On My Own? Call The Right Attorney).

April alleged that her employer violated the ADA for a few reasons. First, because April is considered disabled under the law as a recovering substance abuser. Second, April has a record of a disability. Lastly, April was regarded as having a disability based on her methadone use. In the end, Randstad had to pay April $50,000 because of their clear and egregious disability discrimination.

April deserves every penny of her $50,000 settlement. As a recovering drug addict, she should be allowed to seek treatment to better her chances of recovery AND work. April had the desire to support herself and to contribute to society. April should be commended for trying to recover and no longer be a burden on society, but instead she was unfairly discriminated against. If Randstad’s behavior were okay, it would make it so much harder for recovering addicts to get and keep jobs.

This provision of the ADA will likely be central to Ohio and other midwestern state’s opioid epidemic recovery. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm disability discrimination attorneys predict that there will be an uptick in disability discrimination lawsuits because of this.

There may be an increase in litigation due to the amount of recovering addicts that will re-enter the job market. Although unemployment is currently low, the labor market participation is also low. Men ages 25 to 54 only have an 88.4 percent labor participation rate. According to a recent report, of those 11.6 percent not participating, one in every five is not working because of drug addiction. If Ohio, and other midwestern states are going to recover from the opioid epidemic, those recovering addicts need and deserve the opportunity to be gainfully employed. As much as we might like to deny it, in a unique way, work gives each of us purpose. A rehabilitated addict should not be denied the chance to support themselves because they were once addicted to drugs or alcohol.

One excellent example of communities supporting their recovering drug addicts comes from Dayton, Ohio. The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation is set to launch a pilot program to support employers who hire recovering drug addicts. It’s called “The Opioid Workplace Safety Program” and it basically provides up to $5 million in funding to employers in the greater Dayton area who hire, manage and retain workers in recovery from an opioid addiction. The Chief Medical Officer from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation said it best, “folks in recovery have a better chance of staying sober if they have a job…We want to give employers resources to help them better manage these workers so everyone wins.” The program includes special training for managers on how to lead a workforce that includes employees in recovery.

The pilot program in Dayton is a shining example of how Ohio should be attacking the opioid epidemic, head on. Hopefully, one day, most employers will implement these types of training programs in their work places, and support recovering addicts without prejudice. Until then, Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm will be here, defending Ohioans who are disabled and suffering from unlawful discrimination. Disability discrimination is serious, and it hurts not only the employee, and their families but the community at large. Everyone deserves their “fair shot” when they begin a new job or return to work after seeking treatment. Recovering addicts are no exception.

on your job. If you are disabled or your employer perceives you as being disabled; and you have been fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, denied wages, or even think that you might need a disability discrimination lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. The best option is not to wait. Call our office at 866-797-6040. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disabled employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio employment law.


This employment law website is an advertisement. The materials available at the top of this page and on this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “Can I get a work accommodation to go to AA meetings?”, “am I disabled under the ADA if I am a recovering alcoholic?”, “what should I do if I was fired today when my supervisor learned that I’m a recovering addict?” or “can my boss fired me being a recovering alcoholic?”, it would be best for you to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to disability discrimination questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, attorney, Brian Spitz or any individual attorney.

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