Is alcohol addiction covered by the disability provisions of the Equality Act 2010?

The Equality Act 2010 (Disability) Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/2128) specifically provide that addiction to alcohol, nicotine or any other substance (except where the addiction originally resulted from the administration of medically prescribed drugs) is to be treated as not amounting to an impairment for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. Alcohol addiction is not, therefore, covered by the Act.

However, an employee may have a physical or mental impairment that does amount to a disability within the meaning of the Act but which was caused by or was the result of alcohol addiction, for example a serious liver condition or a depressive illness. The employee would in this case be disabled, notwithstanding that the disability was caused to a large extent by the alcohol addiction. The cause of the disability is not relevant. Conversely, the alcohol addiction could be a symptom or side effect of some other medical condition from which the employee is suffering, which itself amounts to a disability.

Therefore, where an employee is or appears to be suffering from alcohol addiction, the employer should make further medical enquiries in order to ascertain whether there is an underlying medical condition, either caused by or the trigger of the alcohol addiction, which is a disability.