Functional Alcoholic

Rumor has it one of your managers has an alcohol problem. No one has ever seen this manager drunk at work; however he had a DWI in a company-provided vehicle that he drives during and after work hours.

Should you do something? If so…what?

According to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an alcoholic who can perform the essential functions of his job may have a disability requiring employer accommodation under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Courts are fairly unanimous in ruling that an employer needs to grant at least one leave of absence so an alcohol-dependent employee can participate in a treatment program if the employee hasn’t misused alcohol on the job or engaged in misconduct. For example, in the landmark Schmidt v. Safeway, Inc. case, the Court ruled that the ADA may require an employer to provide a leave of absence to an employee with an alcohol problem if it is likely that the employee would be able safely to perform his duties following treatment. With an alcohol-dependent manager, a leave of absence for outpatient or inpatient treatment may be the logical accommodation.

At the same time, alcoholism doesn’t immunize managers or employees from the consequences of their actions. Employers can hold alcohol-dependent managers and employees to the same performance and behavior standards as non-alcoholics and discipline or discharge an alcoholic whose alcohol use adversely affects his job performance. As an example, if an alcoholic employee often arrives late to work or makes frequent errors, the employer can take disciplinary action based on the poor job performance and conduct. Furthermore, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ADA does not protect an employee from termination for alcohol-related absenteeism when reliable attendance at scheduled shifts is an essential job function.

Additionally, employers need not condone outrageous misconduct or criminal behavior that stems from alcohol dependency. For example, if an employee cusses out a supervisor, a medical technician makes a mistake that adversely impacts a patient, or an equipment operator endangers the safety of others, the employer can discipline or potentially even terminate these employees.

A manager embarrassing the company while publicly inebriated or arrested for driving a company car while intoxicated may fall into this category. In two situations relevant to yours, Milwaukee County fired an employee whose job required driving after a DWI arrest and the University of Tennessee fired a football coach stating he could no longer serve as a role model or representative of the university after a highly publicized DWI. Both employers prevailed in lawsuits.

You can consider a manager getting a DWI driving a company provided vehicle a game changer. If you don’t, and your manager gets in an accident, you may take on partial or even full liability for the results.

Additionally, establish clear guidelines to prevent alcohol-related problems. You can let your manager know he cannot drink alcohol at work or prior to the working day or while attending public events on behalf of the company. If your manager cannot comply with these directives, you have the right to take disciplinary steps, which could include a change in job responsibilities, the removal of supervisory duties or, based on reasonable evidence, termination.

© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at


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