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Arbitrator “Bridges” Employment of Chronic Alcoholic to Early Retirement
March 21, 2007

After 30 years of employment the grievor, a chronic alcoholic, had an absence rate of 20 to 50%, compared to a plant average of 4%. The employer took steps to accommodate the employee for almost ten years, including sending him to a rehabilitation program. He continued to drink despite the accommodation efforts.

The employer eventually determined that further accommodation would constitute undue hardship and dismissed the employee, on the basis of his absenteeism and the fact that he worked in a safety sensitive position. The union grieved, arguing the employee should be reinstated.

The arbitrator agreed that the employer had fulfilled its duty to accommodate the grievor. However, he disagreed that the appropriate remedy was dismissal. He found that the loss to the grievor and his family from dismissal would be too great given his age, his poor prospects for re-employment and the non-culpable nature of his conduct. Because the grievor had intended retire early at 55, the arbitrator held that the proper penalty was to suspend without pay from the date of his discharge until his 55th birthday, a period of 15 months. This would allow the grievor to mitigate reduction in his pension benefits. The arbitrator held, however, that if the grievor elected not to retire when he reached 55, he would be discharged from employment without further notice.

Eddy Specialty Papers, a Division of Domtar Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 956; [2007] O.L.A.A. No. 30 (Albertyn)