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Source Newsletter for Business and Operations Header Image

Business and Operations//

December 9, 2009

A: While it is true that recovering from alcoholism (and other forms of substance abuse) is covered as a disability under the federal ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act), active alcohol or substance abuse is not covered. In addition, employees are always accountable for their behavior and performance (whether it is impacted by alcoholism or substance abuse or not). Therefore, it is best to approach these situations as performance and conduct issues.

Entering the classroom under the influence of a substance would be a serious violation of the school's conduct policy. The first concern, though—before disciplining the employee—is securing the safety of students, other employees, and visitors. In situations such as this, it is often best to ensure that the employee leaves the classroom immediately and is transported safely home. At that time, the employee should be informed that he/she is on a paid administrative leave, pending an investigation and determination of next steps by the Head.

The Head (or their delegate) would then conduct an investigation of the facts to determine what behaviors were observed, were there mitigating circumstances involved, are there alternative explanations of the behavior—including direct conversation with the employees involved. Accurate and objective statements of what was observed are critical here. For example, it is unprovable (short of an on-site Blood Alcohol Content test) that the employee was intoxicated. However, it is most often confirmable that the employee stumbled repeatedly when entering the classroom, slurred their words, smelled of alcohol, reacted angrily to simple questions, etc.—all of which are observable and reportable behaviors.

Upon reaching his/her decision, the Head would then inform the employee of the action being taken. If the facts have been confirmed, then it is most likely that a written warning would be issued. Depending on the severity of the incident and the school's past practice, termination of employment may be an appropriate outcome, also. Care must be taken prior to ensure that the school's planned action is consistent with the terms of the teacher's contract and existing school policy.

This is a brief sketch of a complex situation. In cases such as these—as in other potentially litigation-provoking circumstances—schools are always advised to consult with their legal counsel.

The attorney can be of more assistance in guiding the school's actions the earlier in the process they are called. You can help the attorney help you by providing them with the objective facts of the case. They can advise you on the best way forward.


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