A patient was brought in by his boss after getting some sawdust in his eye while working at a distribution center for machinery parts.

As I examined the patient, the first thing I noted was his red eye. The second thing I noted was the fact that his breath smelled like he had just gotten home after a night out drinking at the bars.

“This just happen before you got here?” I asked, wondering if maybe he went out drinking after it happened.
“Yeah, went to the office and my boss drove me straight here. He’s sitting in the waiting room.”

I got the piece of wood out of the patient’s eye. The patient’s boss was in the room by the time the patient was getting ready for discharge.
“Does your company require drug and alcohol screening on injured patients?”
“Naw. Don’t worry about it.”
I walked out of the room and the boss followed me.
“You sure?” I asked.
“Listen. If we did drug and alcohol screens on every employee in our company, I’d lose at least half my workers.”

Note to self: In the future don’t lift machines by package handles when packaged in this area.


  1. Some crazy facts. The Americans with Disabilites Act recognizes alcoholism as a disability and as such an employer may not refuse to hire an alcoholic.
    By classifying alcoholism as a disability, employers are severely limited in what they can and cannot do in terms of hiring and firing. A self-confessed, active alcoholic can walk into your place of business, be interviewed, and if you refuse to hire him or her, they can sue you, claiming discrimination based on disability.

    So, you can not refuse to hire based on alcoholism. In some states you can not fire them if they are drunk at work. These states mandate that they be sent to drug and alcohol rehab often on the employers dime through their workman’s comp policy.

    In a small business where the difference between survival and failure is only a few thousand dollars, $30 grand in legal fees is all it takes to go under. So, you hire the alcoholic and pray they dont get hurt at work and drive your workmans comp through the roof.

    Got to love our system.

      • Throck, from your source:

        “However, an employer can fire or discipline an alcoholic worker for failing to meet work-related performance and behavior standards imposed on all employees — even if the worker fails to meet these standards because of his drinking.”

        If an employee is drunk at work, according to the article you cited, that is grounds for firing the employee.

        In your original post, it seems as though you think an employer should be able to not hire/fire someone just based on the fact that they are an alcoholic. Being an alcoholic does not mean that someone is unfit for a particular job or that they are going to show up drunk to work. I don’t know, seems like a good law to me…

        Now, if you can show me links to laws from the states that you say disallow firing someone for being intoxicated at work, that’s a completely different story.

      • Throck, your link doesn’t support your original post. I wonder I you read it. And no I am not aware of every suit filed for the simple fact that merely filing a suit does not equate to it being law. It would be a waste of time for me to read every suit filed. I too have to be up to date, but only with actual changes in the law in my practice areas and in the jurisdictions in which I practice.

      • Here is an older case, this one in Florida where an alcoholic was terminated on the basis of being drunk at work. He sued based on the violation of ADA and one.

        These cases are fought one by one. The problem is that the cases always cost money. Many in small business dont have the money.


        I do believe that an employer should be able to not hire someone who is an alcoholic that is not recovered. The problem is the law does not seperate those that are still incapacitated from their alcohlic use. In my business, medicine, you don’t want to hire a drunk surgeon.

      • You have found two. You have no idea at what stage they were dismissed. You know nothing about how much they cost to defend or really much about the facts. It’s entirely possible the judge ruled that the plaintiff had to pay costs. Being a small business owner, I am quite aware of the costs of doing business.

        Any system to resolve disputes will have a point where cases are filed. We don’t have the ability to stop filings before they happen. Which seems to be what you want.

        Incidentally, substance abuse does not seem to be a disqualifier from practicing medicine, at least to many medical boards.

      • Medicine is my business, too, and the scenario of a drunk surgeon is terrifying. I agree that there are problems with the law, but I think some protection for alcoholics is important. You made a distinction between recovered/not recovered. I don’t think all people necessarily understand that distinction, and the term “alcoholic” has very negative connotations (and perhaps it should). However, I know some very capable people, both in and out of the medical profession, who carry the label “alcoholic,” but who have been very responsible in treating/managing their disease.

        I don’t know what the solution to this problem is, but I think people should be protected from losing their jobs in the situation where someone finds out that they attend AA meetings.

    • My brother is an AA sponsor…one of his sponsees is an alcoholic MD who was fired for being drunk at work (ie seeing patients). He was able to collect unemployment because he was not offered a reprieve from his duties for treatment for his medical condition. Shit you naught.

      I actually don’t think you can collect disability for alcoholism anymore, however.

  2. I hate that old alcohol breath smell.

    It makes you wonder the way things are done sometimes. What about responsibility and accountability?

    Why do these things seem so backwards from what common sense would dictate?

    And I didn’t realize being alcoholic was a disability? So then is being morbidly obese a disability..or a drug abuser… a disability… what about a porn addict or shopaholic… or how about a kleptomaniac.. or gambler? So can they just say “The addiction/disease/disability made me do it”?

    And how is it fair to have the employer… the one trying to provide the goods and services in the middle like that..darned if he does and darned if he doesn’t?

    In this case.. the boss was aware and so I think he is wrong to let it go on.

    Boy.. you really have to hope that most companies run a tighter ship than that.

    Whatever happened to absolutes..wright and wrong… personal responsibility?

    I understand addictions are difficult… but to force someone else to be compliant with said behavior just seems so wrong. I don’t believe a person should be fired.. but they should have to go to rehab or counseling and not do anything to jeopardize the company/clients if they want to keep their jobs.

  3. Although the employer may not be able to initiate action, what about OSHA? Isn’t alcoholism encouraging a dangerous work atmosphere? What about if the guy is handling hazardous materials? Would alcoholism be breaking any EPA regulations?

    I would imagine certain machine lubricants are classified as “hazardous materials”.

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