AT and Accommodations for Addictions in the Workplace


By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

Alcoholism and drug addiction are very common in the United States. According to the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 21.6 million persons aged 12 or older in 2003 were classified with substance dependence or abuse (9.1 percent of the total population).

For people in recovery, the workplace provides both a setting for success and continued inclusion, and also a source of stress and barriers. Assistive technology (AT) and other job accommodations are rights of employees under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and other laws. People with alcoholism and/or drug addiction are considered people with disabilities under the ADA as long as the person is no longer using illegal drugs, is in treatment, or has completed treatment and is in recovery, and the addiction has substantially limited one or more life activities.

JAN (The Job Accommodation Network) has accommodation ideas for a variety of disability including alcoholism and drug addiction. Below are some excerpts from their series with a few additional ideas from our work at the Michigan Assistive Technology Program.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What limitations is the employee with addiction experiencing?
  2. How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
  3. What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
  4. What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
  5. Do supervisory personnel and employees need training regarding addiction?

Accommodation Ideas:

Treatment Needs:

  • Allow use of paid or unpaid leave for inpatient medical treatment
  • Allow use of paid or unpaid leave or flexible scheduling for counseling or to attend support meetings
  • Provide a self-paced workload or the ability to modify daily schedule

Difficulty Handling Stress:

  • Allow frequent breaks
  • Provide a self-paced workload
  • Provide access to meditation and stress-relieving apps
  • Reassign to a less stressful job
  • Do not mandate job-related social functions where there would be exposure to drugs or alcohol
  • Provide positive reinforcement and consider apps that do this as well

Difficulty Staying Organized and Meeting Deadlines:

  • Provide clerical support
  • Make a daily to-do list
  • Use electronic organizers
  • Maintain a current calendar
  • Remind employee of important dates
  • Schedule weekly meeting with supervisor to determine goals and address employee’s questions, concerns, and work progress
  • Write clear expectations of employee’s responsibilities and the consequences of not meeting them
  • Establish written long term and short term goals


  • Schedule periodic rest breaks away from the workstation
  • Allow a flexible work schedule and flexible use of leave time
  • Allow work from home
  • Implement ergonomic workstation design

Maintaining Concentration:

  • Reduce distractions in the workplace
  • Provide noise cancelling devices or noise-blocking headphones
  • Provide space enclosures or a private office
  • Plan for uninterrupted work time
  • Allow for frequent breaks
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and steps
  • Restructure job to include only essential functions

Exposure to drugs/alcohol in the workplace (e.g. hospitals, pharmacies, bars):

  • Provide workplace supports
  • Provide extra supervision
  • Reassign to a position that does not involve exposure to drugs/alcohol

What do you think? Let us know!