Is Alcoholism a Disability?

Is alcoholism a disability or “handicap” pursuant to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination? The definition of “handicapped,” is very broad in its scope and is left to the courts for interpretation. Alcoholism is a disease that manifests itself by both physical and psychological symptoms. An alcoholic may suffer from either a “physical disability [or] infirmity which is caused by illness,” or from a “mental [or] psychological disability resulting from psychological, physiological or neurological conditions which is demonstrable, medically or psychologically, by accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques.” Accordingly, the New Jersey courts have ruled that alcoholism is a handicap within New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

However, there are situations in which alcoholism may affect the alcoholic’s ability to do his or her job. The New Jersey Law Against Discrmination does not prohibit discrimination against an alcoholic where “the nature and extent of the handicap reasonably precludes the performance of the particular employment.” N.J.S.A. 10:5-4.1.

A Plaintiff who claims discrimination as a result of being an alcoholic or seeking treatment for alcoholism must provide expert medical testimony to establish the fact of the employee’s alcoholism.

The Plaintiff must show that the employer was aware of plaintiff’s condition and possible treatment program and that the decision to terminate the Plaintiff was made after the employer was advised the alcohol problem or treatment.

For more information, please read Alcoholism or Drug Abuse as a Medical Disability Pursuant to the FMLA.

March 14, 2010 – Castronovo & McKinney – New Jersey Discrimination Attorneys