Firing an employee for driving impaired is not always the best course of action. In a court hearing, a Quebec, Canada, trucking company was told to reinstate a driver who was fired after she drank on the job. She was accused of chugging at least nine beers before losing control of her truck on a Pennsylvania highway.
The driver’s behavior was reckless but a disability was the cause behind her drinking. According to labor arbitrator Huguette April, the trucking company Groupe Robert should have made an appropriate accommodation in her case.
“The night of the accident, she needed to drink,” April said. “She admitted that even though she knew she shouldn’t, the need was stronger, like something that she couldn’t control.”
Groupe Robert fired the driver after she was involved in a single-vehicle collision and according to the case details, the driver stopped twice to buy a six-pack of beer as she drove from a Montreal suburb to Pennsylvania.
The woman confessed to drinking at least nine beers during the trip but she wasn’t sure about how many beers she opened on the road. The crash damaged the truck but the driver didn’t face any injuries. She was “arrested with a blood-alcohol level that was 0.18 — more than twice the legal limit.”
The driver informed her employer about her alcoholism about a week after the accident. The day prior to that, she went to get medical help to address the drinking problem. She was officially fired on August 31, and at that point, she had completed an in-patient addiction treatment program.
April said: “There is no evidence Groupe Robert asked or verified whether their troubled employee suffered from alcoholism.”
The driver said the company could have set up an alcohol testing device in her truck after the crash or found alternative work to accommodate her struggles.
Groupe Robert told April that “the collective agreement between the company and the union representing drivers is clear: The penalty for drinking and driving is immediate termination of employment.”
“At Groupe Robert, the safety of all road users is our absolute priority,” company spokesman Kim Leclerc wrote in an email on Monday. Leclerc said the decision to fire the driver “was not taken lightly.” “We have a responsibility to the community to ensure that our employees meet the highest safety standards.”
Marc-Andre Gauthier, a spokesman for Teamsters Canada, said: “The union that represents the driver and challenged her dismissal, said it has an obligation to defend its members in work-related matters, regardless of the circumstances.”
Road safety is of importance to the union. They added: “We encourage drivers to respect driving laws and transport companies to put the necessary policies and tools to allow their employees to practise their profession in complete safety.”