Alcoholic worker with attendance issues reinstated, but ordered to retire

Terminating an employee with a disability can be complicated. After all, employers have a duty to accommodate the worker’s disability to the point of undue hardship. And “undue hardship” isn’t easy to define. An arbitrator ruled the employer had just cause to punish the worker, but given the circumstances of the case it was more appropriate to reinstate him and then have him retire immediately. It’s one of those rare cases that can be viewed as a bit of a win for both sides — the employer no longer has to deal with a problematic worker, and the worker is able to retire at age 55 with a pension.
By Jeffrey R. Smith
|Canadian Employment Law Today

An Ontario company had just cause for firing an alcoholic employee due to chronic absenteeism but outright termination is too harsh of a punishment, an Ontario arbitrator has ruled.

Lyle Lewis, 54, was employed as an electrician for nearly 30 years at Eddy Specialty Papers, a paper products manufacturer in Espanola, Ont. He was hired on Aug. 23, 1976, and planned to take early retirement when he turned 55 on June 7, 2007. However, much of his career at the paper company was marked by attendance problems caused by his dependence on alcohol. The company recorded 1,832 days of absence for Lewis since 1981, including several extended absences.

Eddy Specialty Papers was aware that his alcoholism was the cause of his absenteeism and treated it as a disability. It allowed short-term disability benefits on 15 occasions dating back to 1996 to cover his extended absences and paid for Lewis to undergo rehabilitation 10 times, working with him in an attempt to control his alcohol dependence. After each rehabilitation, however, Lewis relapsed and his absences became a problem again.