An Alcoholic Employee May Not Come to Work Drunk


As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stated, “an employer can hold alcoholic employees to the same standards as other employees, even if the behavior in question is related to alcoholism.”

In Kitchen v. BASF, the employee struggled with alcohol abuse during his tenure with the company, going in and out of treatment. After he was again convicted of driving while intoxicated, the company required him to sign a Return to Work Agreement that required him to submit to breath alcohol testing and a final written warning that stated he would be terminated for testing positive at work, among other things. Subsequently, he tested positive at work and was terminated based on his supervisor’s belief that he came to work under the influence of alcohol in violation of the company’s alcohol policy, the Return to Work Agreement, and the final written warning. He sued, alleging that he had been discharged because of his disability – alcoholism.

The Fifth Circuit found that firing the employee for arriving to work under the influence of alcohol is not the same as firing him because of a prejudice against alcoholics. It noted that the ADA recognizes that employers “may require that employees shall not be under the influence of alcohol … at the workplace” and “may hold an employee … who is an alcoholic to the same qualification standards for employment or job performance and behavior that [the employer] holds other employees, even if any unsatisfactory performance or behavior is related to the … alcoholism of the employee.” Moreover, the court found that the employer reasonably believed its non-discriminatory reason for firing the employee – that he had violated company policy, the Agreement and the final warning – and then acted on that basis.