At JAN, we occasionally receive contacts inquiring about the ability to request a modified or flexible schedule in order to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings. These contacts come from both employees and employers who are trying to navigate the interactive process in a way that will balance business needs with recovery needs.
One perspective we have encountered is that attending meetings is not relevant to work. Employers feel that employees should be able to attend meetings outside of work hours or use leave time as needed. The idea here is that attending meetings is not an accommodation, because it does not cause a barrier to perform the essential functions of the job.
While attending AA or NA meetings may not directly impact the ability to perform the day-to-day functions of the job, it may be worth considering how attending these meetings can help an employee maintain overall performance. Attending meetings might be vital in continuing sobriety, which may play a role in performance and avoiding potential conduct violations.
If an employer allows a modified schedule or leave time to assist with attending AA or NA meetings, can the employer dictate the meeting time? From a practical standpoint, it may help to have a discussion during the interactive process to determine what might be possible. Often communities do have multiple AA and NA meetings throughout the day. Clarifying with the employee how frequently they need to attend meetings and if there are specific days or meetings that they usually attend may be a starting point.
Some employees may not have a preference, but others may have certain meetings they attend for specific reasons. They might have established a support system or attend with their sponsor. In those situations, it may be difficult to switch to a different meeting time or location and receive the same benefits. At the same time, certain types of employment settings may have more flexibility in work hours than others.
This type of request under the ADA may not always be clear-cut. As with any type of request or need in the workplace, it may be best to consider what is being asked and engage with the employee to see what might be possible. If allowing flexibility in schedule or leave time would assist an employee and would not cause hardship to the employer, why not consider it?
As an employee:
- Consider any flexibility you may have on your own in arranging meeting times outside of work hours.
- If attending a meeting does conflict with your work schedule, you might talk with your employer and see what might be possible.
- It may help to prepare any information such as dates and times or how you feel you could adjust or make up the time to show that you are also trying to be flexible.
As an employer:
- If you are presented with this type of request it may be something to consider, especially if you -are flexible with other employees who have schedule needs.
- Talk with the employee to understand the need and explore potential options.
- If it seems that there may be a solution, but you are unsure, implement a trial accommodation to help determine if it might be effective for both you and the employee.
Below are examples to consider.
An office manager returning to work after in-patient treatment for alcoholism needed to attend AA meetings.
His employer provided him with a schedule that allowed him to perform his job but also attend meetings.
Over summer break a high school teacher had been attending a morning NA meeting weekly to help with maintaining her sobriety. She had established a support group and was fearful of having to leave the morning meeting when the school year started. She decided to talk with her employer and see what might be possible.
Since the schedule had not been finalized, they were able to arrange for her planning period to be at the start of the workday. This allowed the employee to attend the morning NA meeting on the specified day so long as she arrived at school with adequate time to prepare for her first class.