In our last post, we began speaking about a Minnesota case in which a woman is suing her former employer for wrongful termination, based partly on the allegation that her alcohol addiction was interfering with her job performance. As we noted, one important issue the court will have to face in this case is whether alcoholism constitutes a protected disability under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
At the federal level, alcoholism has occasionally been recognized as a protected disability, but such cases are difficult to prove. For example, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employee with alcohol addiction is not automatically denied protection under the law. Protection depends on whether the employee is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job. If the alcohol use adversely affects job performance or conduct, however, an employer is permitted to discipline or terminate a current employee, or to deny employment to a prospective employee.
Minnesota’s Human Rights Act provides protection for those with (1) a physical, sensory or mental impairments which (2) materially interferes with a major life activity, or which can be documented, or which is somehow recognized. Not every injury or illness qualifies as a disability under this law, though, and it isn’t clear yet whether alcoholism will be accepted as a qualifying disability, and if so, under what circumstances.
Obviously, employers are going to be in favor of limiting the application of discrimination laws, but the fact that federal law has already included alcoholism as a potentially protectable disability says something. We’ll have to wait and see what the outcome will be in this case.
Anybody who believes they have been subjected to a wrongful termination can benefit from at least consulting with an experienced employment law advocate. Taking that first step allows one to get a better understanding of what protections are available and how one’s case will best be resolved.
Minnesota Department of Human Rights, “Your Rights under the Minnesota Human Rights Act,” Accessed Oct. 15, 2015.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Americans with Disabilities Act: Questions and Answers,” Accessed Oct. 15, 2015.