Now that adult-use recreational marijuana is legal in New York State, many employers had to change their stance on drug use. For the most part, companies cannot discriminate against cannabis consumers. But, what about other drugs? Can an employer legally fire a worker with a history of drug abuse?

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Can An Employee With A History Of Drug Abuse Be Fired For It In New York?

It might seem straightforward, but it's not as black and white as it may seem. Substance abuse is protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act, to some extent.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is perhaps the most important federal civil rights legislation that affects employers when developing and implementing drug-free workplace policies. It prohibits all U.S. employers with more than 15 employees from discriminating against qualified job applicants and employees because of a physical disability.

To many people, drug abuse isn't a disability, but legally speaking, it can be a protected disability.

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Make no mistake, the ADA doesn't stop a company from having a drug-free workplace. Nor does it prevent an employer from firing an employee who is currently using illegal drugs. However, even if an employee previously abused drugs, that doesn't mean they can be fired if their job finds out. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration, in regard to the ADA,

Employers cannot fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote someone simply because she or he has a history of substance use. Employers also cannot fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote employees merely because they are enrolled in a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program.

SAMHSA also warns companies not to single out employees for drug testing. Symptoms or behaviors that employers believe are due to drug use could actually be caused by a medical condition or mental illness. Companies could potentially face charges of discrimination.

***This article is not intended to provide legal counsel or advice.

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