Employees in California are covered by a variety of state and federal laws regarding medical conditions related to drug and alcohol abuse. For safety reasons, employers must actively try to prevent drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace, but they are also prohibited from discriminating against employees with disabilities.

By law, drug addiction and alcoholism can be considered disabilities. If you have voluntarily entered rehab, you are entitled to legal job protections under both federal and California law. If your employer retaliates or otherwise takes a negative action against you, you may be entitled to compensation. 

Federal Laws on Drug and Alcohol-Related Disabilities in the Workplace

At the federal level, these laws have a bearing on the issue of drug rehabilitation and your employer:

The Drug-Free Workplace Act applies to government contractors, as well as any business that adopts these standards, which means most employers and workers in California must abide by it. Employers may be considered government contractors if they do any business at all with the state, no matter how little. When they apply those standards, however, they must also balance them with the ADA, which prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s disability. Under the ADA, alcoholism and drug addiction can be considered a “disability.” 

The key to making sure your drug addiction is considered a disability under the law is in the timing.  According to federal regulations, you should enter rehab before your employer discovers that you are abusing drugs. If they discover your drug abuse before you decide to go into rehab, they are obligated to take action that may be negative for you. However, if you, as an employee, voluntarily seek treatment for drugs prior to your employer finding out, you have a disability, which means the employer must accommodate your rehab decision.

California Laws on Drug and Alcohol-Related Disabilities in the Workplace

California’s laws look much like the federal government’s; they are designed to balance the employer’s need to create a drug-free workplace with the rights of employees with disabilities. If your drug addiction and/or alcoholism are recognized as disabilities under the federal ADA, they will also be considered disabilities or medical conditions under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).  

California Employers Must Provide Reasonable Accommodations for Employees with Drug and Alcohol-Related Disabilities

California law features one big difference from federal law, in that state law specifically requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodation” for employees who go into a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program. The term “reasonable accommodation” means the employer is required to modify the employee’s job in a way that allows them to complete the essential functions of their job, even with a disability. 

There is one additional exception under state law. If the employee is unable to perform an essential duty of their job, even with the reasonable accommodation, the employer may fire them. California also does not protect current drug users, and the California Supreme Court has ruled that employers are not required to accommodate drug use. 

Drug and Alcohol Rehab Protections for California Employees

Perhaps the best protection California workers receive regarding drug addiction comes from certain sections of the California Labor Code, which apply to every California employer of 25 or more. The law requires that employees who voluntarily enter a drug or alcohol rehab program must receive reasonable accommodation by their employer, as long as the employer does not suffer undue hardship. Employers must also do what they can to safeguard the employee’s privacy. 

What constitutes a “reasonable accommodation” is still being litigated, but California courts have said that such accommodation usually includes job restructuring, modified work schedules, including part-time work, or reassignment to another currently open position. Employers are not required by the California Labor Code to provide paid time off for rehab, but employees may use earned sick days for rehab. 

What Should I Do If My Employer Retaliated Against Me Due to My Drug or Alcohol-Related Disability?

Any employer who violates an employee’s rights by retaliating against them or otherwise discriminating against them for their disability may be subject to a $10,000 fine. However, the employee may also file a complaint and receive compensation for any damages they can prove, and that amount is often much higher.

Any employee who believes they have not received a reasonable accommodation for drug rehab is encouraged to file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner, or to hire an experienced employment lawyer to help them obtain justice.  Whitehead Employment Law is a great choice; our team of employment experts is uniquely dedicated to finding justice for employees when an employer violates their rights. 

Discriminated or Retaliated Against By Your Employer for Going to Rehab? We Can Help

At Whitehead Employment Law, we have successfully recovered compensation for many California employees who were retaliated against, discriminated against or wrongfully terminated due to their medical condition or disability, including for going to rehab for alcoholism. Our expert California employee rights attorneys have won millions of dollars in compensation for our clients. 

We handle cases from any part of California on a contingency basis, which means we pay all up-front costs and we only get paid when we win your case for you. Our numerous accolades include being named one of America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators, as well as membership in the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum, an exclusive group that is open to just 1% of attorneys nationwide

More often than not, employers who are violating an employee’s right to go to rehab or be reasonably accommodated for their medical disability, are also violating other California labor laws, including meal and rest break lawsovertime laws, and cell phone/mileage reimbursement laws, among many others. You may be owed compensation if your employer has violated any of these or other rights.

Contact us at Whitehead Employment Law today at 949-936-4001. Consultations are free and confidential.

If you feel your employer has violated your rights in any way, call Whitehead Employment Law at (949) 936-4001 to speak to our friendly staff or fill out a confidential case evaluation form and we will call you.