The Chicago Employment Law Blog

Is Alcoholism A Legally Recognized Disability?

Alcohol dependence is in fact considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. The mere use of alcohol is not protected by the ADA if that use hinders job performance, but abuse and dependence are treated differently.

Recognized as a treatable illness by the medical establishment, alcoholic employees may not be discriminated against so long as they can perform the essential functions of the job.

But alcoholism has a special place in ADA law, according to FindLaw. Employers are permitted to fire an alcoholic employee if he or she "fails to meet work-related performance and behavior standards" to which all other employees must adhere.

Former Kane County Police Chief Charles H. Budde learned the hard way after he was fired following a drunk-driving accident that injured two people, according to Courthouse News Service. Mr. Budde rear-ended a car after drinking enough wine to register a .23 percent blood alcohol concentration.

He hired an Illinois employment lawyer to challenge his termination, claiming employment discrimination for his disability. Specifically, he claimed that the district failed to provide him with a reasonable accommodation for his alcoholism. A federal judge said he was fired because he violated work rules, so Mr. Budde appealed.

The Seventh Circuit rejected his request on similar grounds and in line with the ADA. Judge William Bauer wrote the following:

"In choosing to drive while intoxicated and causing a crash that sent two people to the hospital, he failed to comply with the workplace rules, and Budde was no longer qualified to perform his job as police chief."

Judge Bauer also stated the obvious fact that Mr. Budde's driver's license was suspended after the DUI and that driving is an essential part of a police officer's job.

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