Substance use disorder is a chronic medical condition

This page provides information and resources to federal contractors and workers related to their obligations and rights concerning substance use disorder (including alcohol). Under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, individuals with previous substance use may be considered qualified individuals with disabilities if they are no longer engage in the illegal use of drugs and either have been successfully rehabilitated or are participating in a supervised rehabilitation program. An individual with alcohol addiction may also qualify as an individual with a disability.1

Information for Federal Contractors

Federal contractors can play a vital role in helping integrate and retain applicants and employees into the workforce. Substance use disorder can pose barriers to employment even for individuals in recovery. Section 503 requires federal contractors to provide equal employment opportunity to individuals with disabilities. This may include an individual in recovery from substance use disorder if that person is not currently engaging in substance use.

An individual with a disability is an individual who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, who has a record of such an impairment, or who is regarded as having such an impairment. A qualified individual with a disability does not include any employee or applicant who is currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs when the employer makes employment decisions based on such use.

Complying with Section 503 Obligations

Section 503 prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against applicants and employees on the basis of disability and requires contractors to take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities. Further, federal contractors must provide reasonable accommodations absent a showing of undue hardship.

Examples of reasonable accommodation include:

  • Allowing time off for medical treatment
  • Modifying work schedules to attend counseling or outpatient treatment
  • Temporarily reassigning the employee while he or she completes treatment

Examples of best practices include:

  • Offering training and assistance programs to employees
  • Providing training on drug-free workplace policies
  • Offering health and wellness initiatives to employees

Information for Applicants and Employees

Individuals in recovery from substance use disorders, who are not currently engaged in the illegal use of drugs, are regarded as having a disability and are therefore protected by Section 503. Today, millions of Americans are in recovery and are no longer engaged in substance use. Federal contractors covered by Section 503 cannot discriminate against individuals on the basis of this disability. Further, federal contractors must take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities.

Know Your Rights

Qualified individuals with disabilities who are in treatment or recovery from a substance use disorder and are no longer engaged in substance use can receive reasonable accommodations to enable them to participate in the application process, to perform the essential functions of a job, or to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment that are available to individuals without disabilities.

Some Highlights of Section 503

  • If you are a qualified individual with a disability based on your being in recovery from a substance use disorder, you cannot be denied employment, demoted, fired, paid less, harassed, or otherwise treated differently in the terms, conditions, and privileges of your employment based on that disability if you are no longer engaged in the illegal use of drugs.
  • If you need an accommodation, you should be prepared to provide your employer with enough information to show that you have a disability. You only need to provide pertinent information to request an accommodation.

1Applying Performance and Conduct Standards to Employees with Disabilities | U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (


Contact and Disclaimer

If you think you are a victim of employment discrimination, contact OFCCP:

1-800-387-6251 | TTY 1-877-899-5627

The contents of this page do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. This is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies.

Last updated August 2023