back to article Disability law can protect alcoholic workers

Alcoholic workers could receive protection from the Disability Discrimination Act despite the fact that alcoholism is specifically barred from protection, employment experts have said. They say workers could claim protection for the disease's symptoms. The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) excludes a number of medical …


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  1. Andy Worth

    Alcoholism is not a disability

    It would imply that alcoholics never had any choice in the matter when in truth almost everyone has to CHOOSE to drink in the first place, whereas how many people actually get a choice with a real disability?

    If you term alcoholism as a disability then you'd have to do the same for heavy smokers as well. While I think that there should be plenty of help for people with problems, employers should not be held responsible for them.

  2. Simon Painter

    A disability or a disease is something you do not choose.

    When I wake up in the morning I have a choice to drink or to go to work. I choose to go to work. When someone who does not have the use of their legs wakes up do you think they have the choice to be fully able or not? Do people get the choice to have cancer or not (OK, they can choose to increase their risk by smoking)?

    I do hope that society redresses the balance where those who choose self destructive behaviors are deprived sympathy and that care and consideration is diverted towards those who do their best and battle through despite whatever adversity nature or fate throws at them.

  3. anarchic-teapot

    @Andy Worth

    No, it's not a disability. It's an illness, with terrible cravings for the damn stuff. Instead of sneering at people with the problem, try actually helping them to recognise they've got a problem. This starts by swearing a solemn oath never again to use the words "oh come on, just one glass won't hurt".

  4. leslie

    chicken or egg?

    Work gets you depressed, so you drink, drink causes you to be more susceptible to the depression, so work depresses you more, so you have another little drink or two....

    so, which is the condition, and which is the symptom.............

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Andy Worth

    If I fall off a mountain side, break my spinal column and never walk again, is that a disability? I had to CHOOSE to climb the mountain in the first place. I don't think many alcoholics go straight from teetotal to alchoholic in one drink.

  6. Anonymous Coward


    >"in truth almost everyone has to CHOOSE to drink in the first place"

    Anyone who suffers from this illness will know this is not the case. An alcoholic can not chose not to drink - otherwise they wouldn't be alcoholic!

    Alcoholism IS a life-threatening and progressive illness, it is a physical allergy and a mental obsession but happily there are plenty of sober alcoholics in recovery and they are more than happy to help others with the same condition or who think they may have a drink problem.



  7. Steven

    Sick Note

    "Sorry I've not been in work for the last week but I've been off my face after a Georgie Best style bender and have only just remembered where I live.

    Oh and if you try and sack me I'll take you to a tribunal as your victimising my 'disability'."

    Utter joke, who'd be an employer in the UK.

  8. Chris
    Thumb Down

    neither is depression

    It's just a name - there's no way a doctor can differentiate between someone faking depression (I'm a bit low at the moment, can't get out of bed, can't go to work, lacking self-esteem, give me incapacity benefit) and someone who is a bit low and therefore "depressed".

    Giving something a name doesn't make it a disease.

  9. Matt

    choosing disability?

    Does that mean someone in a wheelchair isn't disabled because they chose to cross the road without looking?

    Not looking to start a flame war but there is a major difference between someone who chooses to have a drink / get drunk and someone who is addicted to / dependant upon alcohol!

    I don't think addictions are disabilities but (effectively) saying you choose to become an alcoholic is just plain ridiculous!

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    The gov't has made another rod for it's own back

    If alcohol and drug addiction can be affected by this law, what of other addictions and their symptoms.

    The govt passed a law banning smoking from all work places so what of the symptoms for not getting a nicotine fix. People can now argue that they are not taken seriously when they are argumentative, short tempered or annoying. Or worse, can now argue that they need a nicotine fix instead of just being nasty to customers / colleagues. Which can be a formal warning situation or sacking offence. (depends on the job)

    This country is going to the dogs, the delivery note signed with by a lawyers pen...

  11. Joe Harrison

    Alcoholism != malingering

    Anyone who thinks genuine alcoholism is a choice has obviously never seen it up close and personal. Yes we've all "had a friend" phone in sick after too many pints the night before but that ain't the real demon by a long chalk. Learn something about it before you call lead-swinging.

  12. Spleen


    @AC: Your guy who fell off a mountainside cannot grow his spine back. A cancer patient cannot remove his cancer. An alcoholic can cut down or stop his drinking. This is not a difficult distinction to understand. Moreover, as you yourself point out, alcoholism is a gradual process. Once you fall off the mountain, that's it, you're screwed, but alcoholism is a road where you can do a U-turn any time you choose. This is another reason why it isn't a disease: you either have cancer or you don't.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    i think we're missing the important point...

    ...are we talking american law or British? :-)

  14. John Parker

    @Jesus - "U-turn"

    For the more seriously addicted alcohols with a very high daily intake, if they were to simply stop drinking overnight (U-turn as you put it), there's a moderate chance they could actually die from the withdrawal symptoms.

  15. The Douros

    @ Spleen

    I think that both you (and a few others) have missed the point here completely.

    The proposed legislation is not about covering for alcoholism, but for the collateral damage caused by it. Whether alcoholism itself is/isn't a disability and/or a choice is completely irrelevant here (btw: no, it is not a choice, get used to it! There is a long way between a regular heavy drinker who can do a U-turn anytime, and an addict who can no longer do that without intensive assistance. If you think the two are the same, then you have yet a lot to learn).

    Consider the case of a fully rehabilitated alcoholic who does not drink any more, but is still suffering liver damage.

    The issue here is the liver damage. If person A no longer drinks (i.e. chose and decided and managed NOT to drink), but the liver damage is still there (pretty much in the same way that the broken spine is still there for person B who fell off the mountain), then why should that damage not be covered as a disability?

    The cases then become equivalent. Both A and B put themselves at risk, then the risk factor no longer exists, but there is resultant damage that causes a disability. If you think that there is no reason to discriminate against B's disability, there there is definitely no reason (apart perhaps from one's moralistic pretenses) to discriminate against A's disability either.

  16. Smell My Finger

    Milk of human kindness goes sour

    My dad was an alcoholic from age 14 until the day he died at 61 (he actually died of lung cancer). Are you saying that a 14 year old boy deserves no kindness at all? Do you really think people should be left to live with the consequences of what happened to them as a child?

    Have you any idea how absolutely imbecile the idea is that an alcoholic became one deliberately and then can chose to stop any day they like? Have you ever read any of the literature of addiction then you'd know that the idea of "choice" is extremely fragile and that most psychologists do regard addiction as a disease. The reason it is deliberately excluded from DDA is purely political and not medical; addicts were excluded because of political expediency because the authorities don't want to either pay for or clear up the mess created by the social conditions we live in. It's easy just to erase them from history in true Ministry of Truth style.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    @ John Parker RE: @Jesus - "U-turn"

    You have to slow down before you do a U turn, other wise you will most likely crash

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    let's have a little reality here

    Not all alcoholics get drunk you know. Sure, all alcoholics drink way more than most of the rest of us, but they've been drinking so long it has little effect... their bodies have adapted to running on the stuff, and they actually need it in ther blood to survive. It becomes both poison and prescription, and without it they can collapse and/or die.

    It takes an awful lot of help to get most alcoholics clean again, and even after that, it takes a lot of help for them to stay clean. It has psychological impacts that the likes of you and I could probably never hope to understand.

  19. system

    RE: neither is depression

    "It's just a name - there's no way a doctor can differentiate"

    Just because somebody can fake an illness effectively doesn't mean the illness isn't real.

    As someone who has bipolar, I can tell you it's a little bit more than low self esteem and feeling a bit down. People who just feel a bit down, or those faking it don't usually exhibit the extreme symptoms someone with serious depression would.

    Serious thoughts of or attempts at suicide, self harm, being a hermit when everyone you know is out having fun, those things are usually just a little too far to go for a faker.

    When it becomes debilitating, getting out of bed in the morning is not the only problem. Sometimes it's a struggle to simply remain standing or sitting and lying on the floor is the only thing you can do regardless of how dirty that floor may be.

    My arms are permanently scarred with self inflicted burns, I first attempted suicide at 14, I often reach the point where I no longer care if I leave my wife and kids behind, and yet I consider myself lucky.

    I'm lucky in that I have bipolar, which along with the down swings comes with some amazing natural highs during which there is nothing that cannot be done.

    I'm lucky that I don't have to deal with the depression 365 days a year unlike some I have known while they were still here.

    If you can say with a straight face that someone willing to take their own life is perfectly healthy, I don't think you've met many people with major depression.

    I agree that feeling a little down because of stress is not an illness, it's a reaction to environmental factors. However, those who have to deal with depression their whole life, even when they should be happy and stress free, do have a serious illness.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Not a disease - a dependency

    Alcoholism is neither a disease nor a disability. It's a chemical dependency, just like an addiction to nicotine or caffeine.

  21. The Douros

    Yes, but kirrhosis is a disease. And a disability. Not a chemical dependency.

    Do you lot actually ever read the bloody articles before you bother to comment?

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm there.

    @ By system

    Yep. Know that. My G/F is also bipolar. (Used to be called "Manic Depressive"). Needs a lot of loving from me (or Lithium) to get her to 'climb down' sometimes.

    So am I (bipolar). We also use a lot of booze.

    A helluvalot.

    15 pints in a session won't touch us. You'd think we'd just been to Starbucks.

    -Enjoy. Which, of course, you won't. Neither do we.

  23. Chris
    Thumb Down

    @system - Bipolar != mild depression

    I said depression is not a disease, not that all mental illness is bunkum - Bipolar disorder is not a depression - that's why they don't call them manic depressives anymore.

    It's pretty hard to fake Bipolar effectively, and I'm not sure that not sleeping for days on end, delusions and all the other symptoms you'd have to fake are worth £100 a week - neither are suicide attempts really worth it.

    However, depression has to go in the pot with ADHD and suchlike as give-it-a-name-so-we-can-pretend-we-understand-it-and-prescribe-drugs rubbish.

  24. mahoney


    Technically it's the alcoholics & addicts themselves (Sinclair) that are the infection that disease the host. (Wandsworth Council, & society in general)

    If mankind didn't invent ALCOHOL, there'd be no such thing as alcoholism. If you can tell me Alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases, you can also tell me;

    If mankind didn't invent ____________, there'd be no such thing as Cancer. (any cancer. take your pick)

    If mankind didn't invent ____________, there'd be no Cystic fibrosis.

    If mankind didn't invent ____________, my father might not be in the final stages of Parkinson's disease.

    Don't you dare compare too much alcohol in someones body, to not enough dopamine in my fathers brain/nervous system.


  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alcohol Addiction...

    ...DOES NOT EXIST. You cannot and can never be physically addicted to Alcohol. Ever. People who are "addicted to alcohol" are psychologically addicted to it and could, in theory, quit at any point with no adverse effects. This is why it's possible to "treat" Alcoholics by giving them a large does of lysergic acid diethylamide (said to give them "religious or powerful experiences" which great encouraged them to stop drinking. Try doing that someone addicted to Heroin and the mental addiction may go, but the body goes through massive withdrawl and cravings.

  26. yeah, right.


    If it's cureable, is it a disability?

    Alcoholism/addiction can be treated. Can those claiming the protection of disability law for their alcoholism then be required to seek treatment in order to continue that protection?

  27. Dan

    @Armchair experts

    Why is everyone trying to confuse the point? Alcholism doesn't have any symptoms that would affect a job. Being drunk does. Employers have a responsibility to keep their workers from being drunk on the job. It doesn't matter if they are alcoholic or not; They are not allowed to come in to work drunk.

    With that said, there is a huge difference between coming in to work with a BAC around .2 and smelling strongly of beer, and actually being drunk. I have an alchololic coworker who I have never seen drunk, despite the fact that he goes through more in a 15 minute break than I can in an entire evening.

  28. This post has been deleted by its author

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Halo

    To quit drinking is a choice

    Everyone I've ever met that has quit drinking has stated the same simple fact...they made a choice to stop drinking. It's that simple.

    People who try to quit but can not tell me it's because they are not 100% ready to quit. They haven't made the choice to quit yet.

  30. Michael

    insert cleve title here

    Yes, many psychologists consider alcoholism a disease. One problem though -- psychologists don't have M.D. at the end of their name. That's right, psychologists are not medical doctors. In fact, you don't even need a doctorate to become one. Many psychologists have only their Masters' in psychology. So honestly, I don't put too much stock into what a psychologist decides to call a disease.

    The definition of "disease" is in two parts:

    First: "a disordered or incorrectly functioning organ, part, structure, or system of the body..."

    Then classification by cause: "...resulting from the effect of genetic or developmental errors, infection, poisons, nutritional deficiency or imbalance, toxicity, or unfavorable environmental factors; illness; sickness; ailment."

    So certain qualifying EFFECTS of alcoholism (cirrhosis, etc) can be considered a disease, but the alcoholism itself does not qualify. In the same way, lung cancer and emphysema are diseases, but smoking a pack a day is not.

    I would hesitate to call depression a disease as well, and think disorder would be a much more appropriate term.

    In any case, none of this is to minimize the sheer destruction any of these things can wreak in a person's life. Nothing I've said is an attempt to marginalize the difficulties faced by alcoholics, smokers, or any other ailment. However, smokers and alcoholics are not victims either -- the alcohol doesn't pour itself down a person's throat. The cigarette doesn't light itself up. Make no mistake, there is a choice. It may be an insanely difficult choice, but it IS a choice.* And that's the real tragedy -- that those afflicted by these problems do it to themselves day after day, most of them know they're killing themselves, and most of them can't seem to build up the willpower to stop.

    * As an economist, I argue that everything is a choice. You don't HAVE to do anything. You'd just rather do that thing than the alternative.

  31. Lee Ward
    Paris Hilton

    Rob Grant my end up being right.......

    Do I have this right ?

    >"The way it works is that you would have a recognized disability and >you would be covered by the Disability Discrimination Act, and that >would mean that an employer would be prevented from treating you >any less favourably and subjecting you to a detriment on the >grounds of your disability," she said.

    So... if you can't do your job because you are a drunk, they can't just fire you ?

    Forgive me if I'm wrong but I thought employers hired you to do a job... not to help with your personal issues like a social service agency.

    "The Act is intended to protect people suffering from non-personally induced conditions whereas alcoholism is seen to be on the border,"

    On the border ? WTF ?

    Something is either personally induced or not. There is no "border"

    You are not forced to gradually become an alcoholic.That process is "personally induced".

    Disability ? Disease ? Last time I checked, you can always, if you really want to, with enough help and personal effort, stop drinking.

    You sure as heck can't do that with paralysis or manic depression.

    Yeah some people don't stop. My mom was an example of an alcoholic who always blamed someone else or came up with excuses. She never admitted to being an alcoholic, even up the day she died with a failed liver.

    In the end it's up to YOU to deal with issues in your life. Not someone else. Your employer is not your caregiver.

    @ Smell My Finger asks:

    >Do you really think people should be left to live with the >consequences of what happened to them as a child?

    Yes. Life happens. Get over it a move on. Anything else just gives a person excuses to not do so.

    What the heck has happened to create this current PC "blame something/someone else" society !?

    Both myself and my wife are from textbook, dysfunctional, broken, low income childhood homes. We take responsibility for our choices in life. We learnt from our childhood and don't use it as a crutch. We struggled through our problems and are now successful. We are sick of other adults blaming their past for their future.

    While it's somewhat unrelated..... here is a quote from the Rob Grant's book, "Incompetence"

    "Article 13199 of the Pan-European Constitution, “No person shall be prejudiced from employment in any capacity, at any level, by reason of age, race, creed or incompetence.” "

    While Rob used this as the basis for a novel.....How long before this actually comes true ?


    PS I used the PH icon because she represents IMO a perfect example of the lack of responsibility generation.

  32. Anonymous Coward

    @ leslie

    The egg.

  33. Anonymous Coward


    Try sacking the BOFH and/or PFY after they've turned up drunk to work... oh wait

  34. Charles Manning

    Are "real disabilities" real?

    Some say that drinking is a choice but missing limbs is not.

    Sure, physically missing the limbs might not be a choice, but the person's attitude - and thus if it is a real disability - sure is.

    I've met various people missing limbs and other body parts or the ability to walk etc who don't let this get in the way of the rest of their lives: running companies, working 60 hour weeks, partying up etc.

    Many people with dyslexia etc, learn to work around these problems and make successes of their lives.

    Perhaps it is wrong to classify alcoholism as a disease, but if it is well managed then it need not be debilitating either.

  35. Aubry Thonon

    Not disease

    Alcoholism is not a disease, or an illness, it is an addiction. Pure and simple. Same as tabacco, caffeine or (in my case) chocolate.

    The fact that your addiction causes physical abnormalities (liver failure for alcohol, cancer for tabacco, weight and blood pressure in my case) is a side-effect of most addictions. That's why addictions are Bad Things(tm); if it weren't for the nasty side effects, they wouldn't be considered addiction. I mean, technically I am also addicted to water and air - couldn't survive the day without the stuff.

    However, I do not believe that damage from addiction should be a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to work. Everybody has bad days (that's why sick-leave was invented) where you're better off staying home than going to work. I would put it to you that in some cases *going to work* could be considered criminal... would *you* want to be in the same plane as a flight crew suffering from a hang-over? If they crash the plane, should the alcoholic pilot be excused because he was suffering from a "symptom" of his addiction, *not* from the addiction itself (assuming he wasn't drinking during the flight).

    You do *not* hire someone with anger-management problems to man a service desk. You do *not* hire a blind person to drive vehicles. You do *not* put a smoker on the space-shuttle (cigarettes and high-oxy environment. *shudder*). It is common sense, and it is (in the long run) safer for both the person and the people around him/her.

    Thus, if these people have an affliction that *stops them from doing their work* (whether self-inflicted or not) they should certainly not *turn up for work*. If they do, then they should not be surprised that their sub-par performance will be noted and placed on their record.

    Yes, alcoholism (like most addictions) is a problem. Yes, the people afflicted with it should be given help. No, it should not be an *excuse*.

  36. Ken
    Thumb Down

    @Chris: Depression not an illness?

    Try telling that to the person who physically can't get themselves out of bed, after having sleep 20 hours a day.

    There are demonstrated problems with serotonin and dopamine producers and receptors in people with severe depression. It might be harder to detect on people with mild depression, but that's not to say it's not real. My personal opinion on it is that there is a feedback cycle. You get depressed, it alters your body chemistry. You alter your body chemistry, and you get depressed.

    Depression isn't an illness? Sure. Paraplegia isn't real either, because people can pretend to be unable to walk.

  37. Andy Worth

    Sorry but....

    There were quite a few people who flamed at me for my original comment telling me "it's not a choice to be alcoholic". I'm sorry but it is exactly that, a choice or decision or even a series of decisions made that lead to it. As far as I know, no-one is born alcoholic or just develops it without drinking, so it is just like smoking in that you have to choose, at some point, to start doing it.

    I also understand that most alcoholics don't realise that they have a problem until it is too late, or even at all. Just like most smokers don't realise how addicted they are until they try to give up. Believe me, I understand the feeling of dread that is left by wondering where your next drink/smoke will come from.

    No-one is under the impression that it is easy for an alcoholic to give up, but saying that they have no choice but to drink is far from the truth. As someone else said, the ones who do quit do so because they make a conscious decision to do so, and despite all the difficulties involved, manage to stick with it.

    So I stand my ground. While I believe that employers should, to a point, be understanding and flexible where they can, and there should be more assistance for alcoholics (and indeed smokers) to help people quit, you can never term it as a disability in the same sense as paraplegia for example.

  38. Carol Yates


    Did anyone notice that Ben Wilmott who gave (legal?) opinion is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personal Development. WTF is that?

    BTW as a person with MS who walks like a drunk, I take exception to being labelled as a drunk when I rarely have a glass of wine...

    I also look forward to the episode of BOFH where this excuse is exploited for all it's worth!

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Alcoholism is an illness

    Alcoholism is a twofold illness - physical and mental.


    There seems to be a genetic element. An alcoholic processes alcohol physically differently from a normal person -once they start drinking they are gripped by a strong compulsion to continue - whereas normal people, even heavy drinkers, are able to control their drinking.


    Any sane person who is having troble controlling their drinking stops. A heavy drinker can stop if necessary. However alcoholics also suffer from a mental obsession when 'dry' - a form of insanity - that means they keep trying it, just one more time... over and over again.

    Such people are not stupid and do not lack willpower. [irony] It takes an amazing amount of effort and discipline to drink yourself to death.[/irony] But the illness or delusion is too strong. At this point the alcoholic has very little choice.

    It isn't surprising most people think alcoholics are wasters who should just quit - but tell that to the families of people who die from it.

  40. Lee Ward

    @ anonymous coward...

    You state:

    "It isn't surprising most people think alcoholics are wasters who should just quit - but tell that to the families of people who die from it."

    Not only am i willing to post my name, unlike you and others, but my mom, in fact, "died from it".

    My mom was an idiot. she could have quit had she admitted she drank too much, and made the choice to gradually stop... as many people do. but she didn't...she dead because of it.

    Take it from a kid, who grew up with an alcoholic mom, and was the person by her bedside the moment she died with yellow skin.

    Quit with the excuse of "it's an illness. Booo Hoooo I have no control !!!"

    Quit fooling yourself.

    Lee Ward

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