As a country, our views on alcoholism and alcoholics have evolved over time: instead of treating big drinkers as characters to be revered or "town drunk" characters to be laughed at, we now understand alcoholism as a medical syndrome that can have catastrophic effects on those drinking and nearby.
This more nuanced understanding can lead to more and better treatment options from medical professionals and social service providers, and more empathy from friends and loved ones, but what about from employers? Can an employee get workers' compensation if he or she is an alcoholic?
Compensation for Conditions
The central element to workers' compensation insurance claims is that the illness or injury is work-related. That means the harm was either caused by or exacerbated by an incident at work or general working conditions. For the most part, alcoholism is thought of as a condition a person suffers from independent from his or her employment, so proving the connection between work and alcoholism could be difficult.
But that doesn't mean it's impossible. In 1990, the widow of a Stroh's employee won a workers' comp lawsuit against the brewery, claiming the company's policy allowing employees to drink on the job led to her late husband's alcoholism. The court in that case found the man, while predisposed to alcoholism, was not an alcoholic when he began his employment at the brewery, and that employees could be entitled to compensation if their work environment aggravated their condition.
Accommodations for Alcoholics
Not everyone works in a brewery, however, and it may be difficult that your job, no matter how stressful, led to your alcoholism. But you may have other options. Alcoholism may be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, meaning employers may be required to provide accommodations for alcoholics.
While employers may ban alcohol in the workplace and discipline or terminate employees if alcohol use adversely effects job performance, they generally can't fire you solely because you are an alcoholic.
If you have more workers' compensation questions, or you've had a workers' comp claim denied, you should talk to an experienced workers' compensation attorney about your claim.