Does the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) really require motor carriers to allow alcoholics to drive trucks?
That's the question addressed in a recent article from the transportation attorneys at Smith Moore Leatherwood in Greenville, S.C.
There are several factors involved, they explain, including whether the driver has a "current clinical diagnosis of alcoholism" and whether you are making individualized determinations or have a blanket policy.
In one court decision, the court upheld the fleet's actions, because the Department of Transportation regulations mandate that a person is not qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle if he has a "current clinical diagnosis of alcoholism." Therefore alcoholic truck drivers may not be considered qualified individuals with disabilities under ADA.
That seems to conflict with a separate decision issued around the same time, where the jury found in favor of EEOC and awarded a former driver $119,612 in back pay. The driver was fired after he self-reported alcohol abuse, based on the fleet's unwritten policy never to allow drivers who have self-reported alcohol abuse to return to a driving position. In that case, according to the EEOC press release, "the ADA requires that [the fleet] make an individualized determination as to whether the driver could return to driving and provide a reasonable accommodation of leave to its drivers for them to obtain treatment. To maintain a blanket policy that any driver who self-reports alcohol abuse could never return to driving—with no individualized assessment to determine if the driver could safely be returned to driving—violates the ADA."
The message from the EEOC, note the Smith Moore Leatherwood attorneys, is that a motor carrier must engage in an individualized assessment as to whether the driver had a current diagnosis of alcoholism and, if not, engage in a dialogue as to whether there were any necessary reasonable accommodations.
In light of DOT regulations, they say, the industry probably has more defenses to disability claims under the ADA than do employers in other industries. Updated job descriptions and a good review of reasonable accommodations for disabilities will be your best defense.