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How are workers with alcoholism protected by disability law?

by AirTalk

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Should alcoholism be considered a disability? Getty Images

A police officer fired for driving drunk, while off duty, is suing his Oregon employer for discriminating against his alcoholism disability. In early 2011, Jason Servo, 43, was at a bar with colleagues after firearms training. He later crashed his unmarked police car in a ditch then was arrested.

Servo's lawyers say he immediately quit drinking, entered treatment then was diagnosed as an alcoholic. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does apply to the disease of alcoholism, but does not prohibit employers from firing employees whose drinking problems interfere with work. When the ADA was drafted, negotiations went to pains to ensure that alcoholics were a protected class a people, but that the associated behaviors were not protected necessarily.

What if Servo had been an undiagnosed epileptic who crashed his car after a seizure? Could he still be fired? Are different disabilities treated differently? How far can employers stretch to accommodate employees with unpredictable disabilities?

Guest:  

Shawn Kollie,  Attorney with Short Law Group - the firm representing Jason Servo - based in Portland

Karla Lopez, Staff Attorney, Legal Action Center based in NYC; Lopez specializes in legal issues surrounding substance abuse

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