Is 'reasonable accommodation' required for an alcholic employee?

The new bookkeeper/biller/payroll guy at my sister’s office isn’t working out. He’s falling behind, and what he does get done has more mistakes than is tolerable.

My sister (let’s call her Mary) is sure this is because the man has a drinking problem. Evidence: he’s okay when he comes to work in the morning, but at least a couple times a week his lunch ‘hour’ turns into two hours, and after the long lunches he generally closes his office door and isn’t seen for more hours. Last week something came up where she needed to ask him a question right away. Loud knocking on his door didn’t get any response, so she walked in to find him sprawled forward across his desk. He was somewhere between dead asleep and passed out, an open bottle of booze on his desk.

And then there’s the reek of booze on him, coming through clearly despise the STRONG scents of cologne and breath mints. :rolleyes: Mary has discussed this with the other office workers, who had also notice similar things, and now she plans to tell the business owner. (Who is rarely in the office, most days he’s out prospecing for new customers.)

The question is – can they just fire this guy on the grounds he isn’t doing the work adequately? Or do they risk some sort of lawsuit? Because if alcoholism is an ‘incurable’ disease – does that make it a protected disability automatically?

If so…well, what can they do? As I said, it’s a small company, they really can’t afford to hire another person to do this person’s work AND keep the boozer on the payroll. OTOH, no company can operate when billing and payroll and all get screwed up or not done at all.

I’m pretty sure it’s a legitimate reason to fire him. If the company has a “no drinking alcohol on the job” policy I don’t think “well, I’m an alcoholic” is a viable excuse.

My understanding from HR training is that you have to give the employee one chance to get sober and recover. I don’t think this is just us, but an ADA deal. In a way, you’re lucky he had the booze right there, because even if you suspect it you can’t act on that. Apparently some diseases make folks smell alcohol-y.

I’ll poke around our policy book and report back.

Heck, I could get fired just for having booze on site. That includes in the trunk of my car, in the parking lot. Come to work above .08? Start sending out your resumes.

Here is a better article. Does her company have an alcohol policy in place already?

IANA Labor Lawyer, but I believe that, while alcoholism is a disease (and thus, you couldn’t fire someone for being an alcoholic), being drunk is not a disease. There are many alcoholics who never drink (they are said to be in recovery), and I would be worried if your sister wanted to fire one of them for their condition. This guy, however, is drunk on the job! Practically, I would follow gigi’s advice and give him a chance to get into treatment. If he refuses, or fails to follow through, then I suspect you have adequate reason to fire him.

ETA: I would think a “reasonable accomodation” would be allowing him to leave a little early to attend an AA meeting, provided he is getting in a little earlier to make sure his work is being done. It would not be a reasonable accomodation to ignore his drunkeness.

Why even mention alcohol? If the employee kept his problem hidden, he would be fired for not doing his job adequately, right? I would ignore the alcohol aspect and fire him for not doing what he was hired to do!

I agree with the sentiment but in most companies you have to document the performance, establish a performance improvement plan, track the plan, show they failed to meet it. It could take at least 30 days and up to 90 days to dismiss someone for lack of performance. However, if the company has a clear policy on alcohol, he could be fired on the spot for being drunk with a bottle on his desk. I worked for a large company that had a policy on “outrageous behavior,” which specifically included drunkeness in the workplace, that allowed immediate firing.

Wow. I am happy that my small business consists of me and a dozen employees.

The issue with alcohol is wide and encompasses much more than one individual. If this gentleman is screwing up That bad at his job, his life must be a mess as well.
Personally, I’d direct him to a rehab, or at very least a local AA meeting. As mentioned above, alcoholism is never cured, but people with it often do become functioning members of society again.
I have several doctor friends in the program, and I’ve heard them on several occasions state: I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic.

I speak from experience, as do many well respected fellow dopers on this board.

It may not be required in all cases, but I think it’s common. At my husband’s workplace an employee was told they would give him a chance to get help, but that he was not to show up at work drunk again. He failed to comply and was fired.

A neighbor of mine was ordered to an outpatient program which he had to document and told not to show up drunk again. (He didn’t tell me this, it’s just quite astounding what people will discuss loudly on their cellphones right outside your window.)

IANAL, but a little searching came up with this:

The ADA says that you can’t discriminate against a **qualified employee ** who happens to have a disability. You can’t fire an otherwise qualified bookkeeper because he happens to be in a wheelchair.

But if this guy simply can’t do the job, the ADA doesn’t prevent you from firing him. In fact, the ADA specifically addresses the issue of drug and alcohol use in Sec. 12114. An employer…

“Bookkeeper/biller/payroll guy” is a position that inherently requires someone who is responsible and reliable. Sounds like this guy seems to have demonstrated he doesn’t possess those traits. And frankly, I’m not sure how many chances I’d want to give a guy in such an important position. The potential damage from incompetence (or even mischief) is pretty significant.

All the companies I have worked for had very explicit rules about behaviors that can get you fired immediately, and this guy is violating these. If a person did this who wasn’t an alcoholic, they could get fired just as easily. We also have performance improvement plans, but violating the fire at once rules don’t get you into those.

My guess is that whoever the manager is either consulting with HR or ignoring the problem because he or she is not getting directly affected. Never underestimate the power of denial.

I have alcoholic friends as well, a few will even admit it. As a business owner, however, I would be unable to afford an employee who didn’t do his/her job. If my business could get by without them, I would rather just eliminate the position and pay myself their salary.

I agree, and for your position and business I’d completely understand. For larger companies with EAP programs they follow a different set of rules for the most part.
Or I should say they can afford to follow a different set of rules.

Speaking of this, isn’t there a minimum number of employees under which the ADA does not apply? Sure, I’m thinking of the old King of the Hill episode, where Hank quits his job to allow his boss to fire a drug addict*, but aren’t small businesses below a certain size exempt?
*No, I don’t get my legal advice from watching prime time cartoons.

Fifteen employees (with another link to the ADA text for those who want to read the whole thing).

Also exempt are tax exempt private membership clubs and, as always, the US Government.

I noticed that the OP said new employee. Does the firm have a probationary period? It is my understanding that during that time you can bounce any employee that is not preforming up to snuff without a lot of documentation.

Thank you all for your advice, and the great links. Yes, it sounds like they have a perfect right to get rid of this guy.

A potential snag is the nature of the company. It was a one-guy-in-his-spare-time startup not that long ago. His first three ‘employees’ were all relatives, in fact, his mother is still the ‘office manager.’ He may have a couple dozen employees by now, but some are part-time, and others I think might be considered independent contractors.

Basically, there’s NO HR department. The owner personally hires/fires, and any other personnel type stuff gets done by his mother. Or not – she’s a softy, and yes, she might be doing her best not to ‘notice’ there’s a problem so she won’t have to deal with it.

I’ll suggest to Mary that she suggest to the owner that he needs to get an employee’s handbook made up that covers this, since probably he’s never gotten around to that. Then, what? I guess give all the employees copies, make them sign that they’ve read it and agree? And then wait for the drinker to slip again?