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Public service announcements about alcoholism may not become mainstream until the holiday season, but as retailers begin to hire temporary workers for the holidays, alcoholism is an incredibly real issue that job seekers and employers must deal with.

After all, the disease comes with its stereotypes and preconceived notions. Some believe that is merely a choice instead of a form of mental illness that requires treatment and reasonable accommodations.

So as you are evaluating candidates and making conditional offers prefaced on the passage of background and substance tests, it is important to know that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides applicants with a number of protections, especially when it comes to alcohol testing.

As such, this post will provide some basic boundaries for alcohol testing.

Applicants – Employers may not ask applicants disability related questions as part of the interview process. Within this paradigm, an employer may ask whether an applicant drinks alcohol, but use follow up questions probing into drinking patterns (i.e. how many, how often) may offend the ADA because they potentially can be construed as inquiries into a disability.  

Prospects who have received an offer – As we alluded to earlier, a job offer may be conditioned on passing a drug and alcohol test. Substance screenings are allowed as long as they are relevant to the particular job or closely related to a particular safety expectation.

Active employees – Most employees understand that they cannot be under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs while in the workplace, but they may be concerned about seeking time off to attend substance abuse rehabilitation programs. Employees who request such time should not be disciplined. Similarly, great care should be taken before reprimanding those who miss work to get help.  

If you have questions about handling employees with substance abuse issues, an experienced employment law attorney can help.