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Can my employer fire me because of my alcoholism? P.1

When an individual struggles with an addiction, that addiction does not really care whether its victim has a job to do or a family to support. Addictions follow their victims into the workplace and can have an impact there—sometimes significant—on an individual’s ability to work effectively. From the perspective of an employer, addictions can seriously impair an employee’s performance and can potentially become the basis for termination.

Although termination based on alcoholism does not ordinarily pose any legal difficulties, there are some cases where the legality of such a termination may come into question. Take, for example, the case of a woman who formerly served as a senior executive at the Minnesota State Lottery and who is reportedly suing both her former supervisor and the Department of Minnesota Management and Budget in connection with her termination over the summer.

The dispute reportedly goes back to 2012, when the woman was suspended for 10 days after becoming intoxicated at a work-related event in another state.  Her recent termination was, according to state officials, based on actions which “caused loss of trust and confidence,” as well as exercise of poor judgment which hurt the reputation of the Lottery. The specific reasons for her termination have not yet been released, but the woman claims in her complaint that her termination was based on gender discrimination and alcohol dependency, and that it was illegal.

With respect to her alcoholism, the woman claims that it did not have any material effect on her job performance and that alcoholism is actually a protected disability under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.  The argument that alcoholism constitutes a protected disability is not a common one in wrongful termination litigation, and it remains to be seen how far that argument will go in court.

In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this issue, and why it is important for those who have been subjected to wrongful termination to work with an experienced advocate in their case.