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Was It OK to Insist That He Receive Alcohol Treatment?

If an employer requires an employee to complete an inpatient alcohol treatment as a condition of keeping his job, does it regard him as an alcoholic?

What happened. “Clark” worked for Seward County, Nebraska, from 1981 until 2005. He was a Vietnam veteran who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and took medication to control his symptoms. On July 22, 2005, Clark left work early, began drinking, and became intoxicated. Later that night, he wounded some of his family’s farm animals and threatened his wife. He was arrested the next morning for making terrorist threats and using a firearm to commit a felony.

The Seward County board and Clark agreed that he would get a psychological evaluation and a substance abuse evaluation. He met with a mental health practitioner from the Veterans Administration (VA), who recommended that he complete inpatient alcohol treatment. But Clark did not want to complete inpatient treatment and told the board he would instead pursue outpatient treatment. But the board decided to follow the recommendations of the VA and required Clark to complete inpatient treatment. It mailed a letter to Clark telling him to enroll at an inpatient treatment center within 10 days or lose his job. The board wound up giving him much more than 10 days to comply with this request, but Clark ultimately refused, so it terminated him.

Clark sued the county under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), claiming that it regarded him as a disabled alcoholic. A federal district court in Nebraska found for the county and Clark appealed to the 8th Circuit (which includes Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota).

What the court said. Clark claimed that in requiring him to complete inpatient alcohol treatment as a condition of keeping his job, the board regarded him as an alcoholic. The court explained that an employer regards an employee as disabled when it mistakenly believes that an employee’s physical ailments substantially limit his/her ability to work. However, the board’s insistence upon Clark’s completion of inpatient treatment “was not based upon misconceptions, myths or stereotypes about his possible drinking problem” but rather on “a very serious incident which resulted in criminal charges” and “a licensed mental health therapist’s recommendation” that Clark complete inpatient alcohol treatment. Judges concluded that the board’s insistence that Clark fulfill their requirement before returning to his job did not violate the ADA’s prohibitions on regarding employees as disabled. Kozisek v. Seward County, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, No. 07-3682 (2008).

Point to remember: Clark also claimed that he was disabled because of the PTSD, but the court found that regardless of whether he had a disability, the board “articulated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for firing Clark—his refusal to complete inpatient alcohol treatment.

source:  HR BLR

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