Misconduct and addiction: When is cause enough?

An addiction that qualifies as a disability can mitigate an employee’s misconduct that would normally be just cause for dismissal
By Lorenzo Lisi and Fiona Brown
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 11/13/2013

Employers understand that establishing just cause as a basis for termination of employment is a difficult task. The threshold is high and often courts and administrative tribunals may determine that what looks like clear cause is actually non-culpable behaviour.

This was the case in the recent arbitration decision of Ontario Nurses’ Association v. London Health Sciences Centre, where arbitrator James Hayes determined that a discharge of a nurse for theft could not be sustained because the misconduct was causally connected to her addiction.

The employee was a nurse at the London Health Science Centre in London, Ont., for two-and-a-half years. It was discovered she stole narcotics for her own personal use, falsified records and attended at work while impaired. This misconduct proceeded on several occasions in the course of one year. Following an investigation, the employer discharged the nurse from her employment and the union subsequently grieved the discharge.