British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal: Dismissal of "Perceived Alcoholic" By Employer Not Discriminatory

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal recently found that an employer did not contravene the BC Human Rights Code when it dismissed an employee for “alcohol-related behaviour”.

The employee was a sales representative with 29 years service. He worked out of the office the majority of the time and had little in the way of direct supervision. He had previously been disciplined for consuming alcohol during working hours. In February 2001, as a result of receiving some disappointing news at work, the employee left work without permission and spent the afternoon drinking. The following day his supervisor met with him to discuss his conduct, including his practice of drinking with clients during working hours. As a result, the employee received a disciplinary suspension for absenting himself from work. In addition, he was directed not to drink during working hours, with or without clients.

Several months later, the employer learned that the employee had resumed his practice of drinking with clients during working hours. The employer provided the employee with an ultimatum; seek treatment for alcoholism or be dismissed. The employee did not accept he was an alcoholic. When it was subsequently discovered that he had falsified expense reports to hide his drinking, the employee was terminated for cause.

The Tribunal rejected the employee’s claim that drinking with clients during working hours was condoned by the employer as a necessary sales technique, particularly in light of the employer’s earlier direction. While it accepted that alcoholism is a disability for the purposes of the Code, and that a perceived disability is sufficient to establish a prohibited ground of discrimination, the Tribunal found that the employee’s perceived alcoholism was not the reason for his dismissal. If the employee had been able to accept the employer’s offer and treatment, his employment relationship would have continued.

Rather, the Tribunal concluded that the termination was the result of the employee’s conduct, i.e., that he had continued to drink with customers in contravention of the employer’s express direction and had falsified his expense accounts to disguise his misconduct.

Dumais v. Speedy Auto and Window Glass, 2004 BCHRT 47, June 1, 2004 (Lyster)