Does the ADA Protect Employees With Substance Abuse Problems?

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The Americans With Disabilities Act, also known as the ADA, provides many protections for those suffering certain health impairments and difficulties. While substance abuse is deemed by many healthcare professionals today as a bona fide health ailment or disease, such a sufferer’s protections under the act are a bit of a hazy subject to many. Let’s get to the answers to this common health concern in the workplace.

ADA Defined

Before getting to the core of this particular question, it’s helpful to first understand the basics and function of the ADA. The Americans With Disabilities Act is a provision of US law that strictly forbids any type of discrimination against those with disabilities or other disabling health impairments. This civil rights law was signed into effect in 1990 and remains heartily in action to this day.

The act provides many different functions, but chiefly, they all serve the purpose of discrimination prevention among the disabled. In public, the ADA assures the disabled of equal abilities to physically access people, places, and services. In the workplace, such as is the center of our question at hand, the ADA similarly acts in a number of capacities so as to prevent such discrimination.

Substance Abuse Sufferers Covered at Work

Among health conditions in the workplace specifically addressed by the ADA is that of substance abuse. This is, in fact, a fully covered disability under the provisions of the act. However, in order for the sufferer of this condition to be protected by the provisions of the act, they must fit several prerequisites first. According to the ADA, “qualified individuals” are those who:

– “have been successfully rehabilitated and who are no longer engaged in the illegal use of drugs”


– “are currently participating in a rehabilitation program and are no longer engaging in the illegal use of drugs”


– “are regarded, erroneously, as illegally using drugs.”

Substance Abuse Sufferers Not Covered at Work

The above distinctions lay the strict framework with which one may become covered by the ADA’s protections for substance abuse sufferers. Conversely, if any of these factors is not currently true, then the person in question is immediately considered to be disqualified from ADA protections. Probably the most common route to disqualification here is the determination that the employee is still a user of illegal substances. In other words, even though a recovering addict may be protected, their relapse and subsequent appearance on the job with drugs in their system is not and is thus reason for protection disqualification.

Room for Grievances

As with any other legal standing, those with a desire to file grievances or appeals related to the ADA or its resulting provisions is certainly able to do so. Such grievances and appeals, whether against the ADA itself, or against a supposed violator of ADA law, must be filed appropriately in the state in which the problem exists. Once the state judicial system is involved, follow-up escalation can be facilitated as appropriate.

In the end, employees with substance abuse problems are certainly covered by the protections of the ADA. On the other hand, those found to be actively engaged in substance abuse are quickly disqualified from such protections. These are the basics of protections for substance abuse sufferers in the workplace under the provisions of today’s Americans With Disabilities Act.