Does asking about employees’ alcohol use violate the ADA?

“My off-time is my business…”

That is unless your actions affect the financial state of your employer.

When addressing sensitive issues such as substance use or abuse, there is certainly a tightrope to walk. How much is too much to ask? And how complicated is it to fire someone once information regarding a disability has been disclosed?

In Lansdale v. UPS Supply Chain Solutions, Inc., these very issues were in question. Michael Lansdale was investigated for suspected use of company funds for personal purchases. Upon questioning from his employer, Lansdale admitted to using his corporate card for personal reasons, specifically to keep his drinking habits hidden from his wife. His employer then inquired further about the extent and nature of his drinking habits. The next morning, Lansdale was discharged from his position because of his improper use of company funds.

However, Lansdale claimed that he had been asked questions regarding his disability and that his job had been terminated as a result of this disclosed disability information.

According to the ADA
Alcoholism generally qualifies as a disability under both the MHRA (Minnesota Human Rights Act) and the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Discrimination protection under the ADA extends to those with “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities” and to people who are “regarded as having such an impairment.”

Through his personal testimony, his wife’s, and his doctor’s, sufficient evidence could not be found to prove to the jury that:

  • Lansdale has a disability.
  • His alleged disability substantially limits one or more life activities.
  • He wasn’t able to perform his job functions when he was dismissed from his position.
  • His disability was previously known and was a “motivating factor” in his discharge.

As this case shows, especially in the case of suspected employee misconduct, employers must take care in the type of questions they ask regarding an employee’s mental or physical state. Contact us at ClearStar to learn more about screening packages to help keep your employees and business in a safe and professional position.

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