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Is addiction covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act?

You know that drug addiction is a disease, so it only seems to make sense that the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA, would provide some measure of job security if you're struggling with addiction.

And it does -- but only under certain circumstances. The ADA often struggles to balance the interests of employers and employees when it comes to disability accommodations, and addiction is a tricky one to handle. In general, if you're suffering from a drug addiction, this is what you should know:

Current drug use isn't protected.

Your employer has a right to maintain a drug-free workplace. If you are currently using illegal drugs, you can be disciplined or fired. Even if you have been diagnosed with an addiction, the ADA will usually not protect you.

Addiction is a listed disability.

The ADA does, however, list substance abuse and addiction as a disability -- but only if you qualify under its terms. In order to do that, you have to no longer be using drugs and either successfully rehabilitated or actively participating in a rehabilitation program. You're also protected if you're mistakenly identified as someone who is using illegal drugs.

What does that mean in practical terms?

  • If you need reasonable accommodations to attend drug addiction counseling sessions or some other form of treatment, you can likely obtain them.
  • Your employer usually can't suddenly fire you on the basis that you might relapse if they find out that you were an addict in the past,
  • It's also unlikely that your employer can fire you if you test positive for a substance like methadone, which is a legal drug that is sometimes prescribed to help addicts to control the physical symptoms of addiction.

If you're facing difficulty with your employer over your past problems with drug addiction, it's important to understand what rights you do and do not have under the ADA. You have the right to be free of discrimination in the workplace and fair treatment under the law.

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