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In the realm of substance abuse and recovery in the workplace, employers encounter distinct challenges governed by various laws and regulations. In this installment, we delve into the intricate landscape of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA) concerning both alcohol and drug abuse, clarifying the contrasting provisions for each. If you missed Part 1 of this series, click here to read about how substance abuse and recovery can affect workers’ compensation.

Alcoholism and the ADA

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Alcoholism is recognized as a covered condition under the ADA. The ADA extends protections to individuals struggling with alcoholism, irrespective of whether they are actively continuing to use alcohol. This provision underscores the recognition of alcoholism as a disability warranting accommodation and support within the workplace.

Illegal Drug Use and ADA

In stark contrast to alcoholism, the ADA does not extend protections to individuals engaged in current illegal drug use. Current users of illegal drugs are not covered by the ADA because they are not deemed to be qualified individuals with a disability.  Consequently, they are not entitled to accommodation or protection against discrimination based on their drug use.

Former Drug Use and ADA

The ADA offers coverage to individuals who are former abusers of illegal drugs, provided they are no longer engaging in current illegal drug use. Former drug abusers may be protected under the ADA, highlighting the distinction between current and past illegal drug use in determining eligibility for ADA accommodations.

Challenges in Determining Current Use

The determination of an individual’s current use of illegal drugs presents inherent challenges for employers. Factors such as testing results, observable behaviors, and medical history contribute to assessing an individual’s drug use status. However, the ADA does not provide explicit guidelines, leaving room for interpretation and discretion in evaluating current use. In addition, employers are limited in their ability to conduct any drug testing and should not do so without pre-approval of a testing process by the Department of Labor, with some limited exceptions. Overall, employers should focus on objective behavior and performance rather than conjecture and speculation as to drug use.

Implications for Employers

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Employers must navigate the nuances of ADA provisions concerning substance abuse and recovery in the workplace, focusing on objective behavior and performance. In the event an employee is considered a person with a covered disability related to drug use or recovery, reasonable accommodation processes are essential for fostering a supportive and compliant work environment.


Understanding the nuances of the ADA and Human Rights Act is key for employers managing workplace substance abuse issues. Compliance with these laws supports both employee welfare and legal adherence. Don’t miss Part 3, where we’ll dive into how substance abuse interacts with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in the workplace. For more in-depth guidance, opt-in here to access a downloadable recording of our workshop on Substance Abuse and Recovery in the Workplace, presented by attorney Anne-Marie Storey.

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