Sunday, October 19, 2014

Alcohol fueled misconduct found just cause for termination despite rehab

Arbitrator Joseph Duffy has upheld the termination of an Able Bodied Seaman in a dispute between the State of Washington and the Inland Boatmen's Union of the Pacific.

Grievant was employed by the Washington State Department of Transportation, Ferries Division. On April 5, 2013, while he was off duty, grievant drove his personal vehicle on board a ferry operated by the employer. While on board, grievant engaged in conversation with two other employees. According to these employees grievant was intoxicated and made offensive and racially charged comments to both, as well as comments about a passenger. The grievant was also alleged to have engaged in inappropriate physical contact with a female coworker. The coworker testified that grievant thrust his hands between her vest and her shirt, rubbed against her from behind, and placed his face against the back of her neck. During the employer's investigation of this incident grievant claimed he had no recollection of the events in issue, saying he was in an alcoholic blackout at the time. The employer terminated grievant's employment, and the dispute was ultimately submitted to arbitration. At the hearing the Union argued that while grievant's conduct warranted discipline, termination was too severe, and the discipline should be mitigated because of grievant's length of service and his successful participation in an alcohol treatment program.

Initially, Arbitrator Duffy noted that while grievant had been off duty at the time of the incidents, there was a clear connection between the events and grievant's employment, noting that they took place on board a ferry operated by the employer and involved coworkers and, potentially, a passenger. He then considered, and rejected, the Union's mitigation and disparate treatment arguments, observing:
     As witnesses at this hearing testified, many people successfully recover from alcoholism, remain sober and lead productive lives thereafter. ... The process of recovery often has a transformative effect on the individual that extends beyond simply stopping drinking. The Grievant described the positive, transformative effect that recovery has had in his life. ... Clearly, the Grievant's conduct in obtaining treatment and continuing in follow up programs is commendable.
     Had this been a case of intoxication in the workplace without the other elements, the outcome would very likely be different. Intoxication, however, does not provide an excuse for serious misconduct of the type engaged in by the Grievant. The mitigating factors of length of service, the lack of prior discipline for similar conduct and the Grievant's commitment to alcoholism treatment are outweighed by the Employer's interest in protecting the integrity and credibility of its equal employment policies and rules. 

As a result, he rejected the Union's grievance.

Arbitrator Duffy's Award can be found here.

No comments:

Post a Comment