Holiday season shines light on workplace alcohol issues

published in The Journal Record | November 30, 2010

McAfee & Taft labor and employment attorney Charlie Plumb was featured in a Journal Record article about dealing with alcohol and drug issues in the workplace. According to the article, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management reported absenteeism to be four to eight times greater among alcohol abusers and that family members of alcoholics also have increased rates of absenteeism.

Plumb told The Journal Record that alcoholism is treated as a disability under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law protects an employee seeking treatment, but does not necessarily protect that employee from the consequences of negative behavior resulting from addiction.

“The fact that I have an alcohol problem does not insulate me from the standards of tangible job performance and disciplinary action,” Plumb said. “Alcoholism is a disease, but it does not give you a free pass in terms of your conduct. It protects you from being treated unfairly or discriminatorily because of your medical condition.”

Plumb said that the problem is usually resolved in one of two scenarios: the employee that asks for assistance has a much better prognosis than the employee who denies there’s a problem or doesn’t ask for help if they do admit there’s a problem.

“The most frequent result is, I’ve got a problem but I don’t come to you seeking help, despite you pointing out that resources are available. And my performance and actions get worse and I lose my job,” Plumb said. “Co-workers are sympathetic up to a point.”