posted on June 14, 2010 15:39
Below please find an interesting article about a case finding for an employer where the employee was an alcoholic with attendance problems. This thorny ADA issue is not uncommon-please contact GVC SHRM Legislative Representative Paul F. Keneally, Esq., Partner and Chair Labor & Employment Practice Group at Underberg & Kessler LLP, if you have any questions-258-2882 or email@example.com
2nd Circuit: No Call/No Show Termination Survives Alcoholic’s ADA Claim
1/15/2010 By Roger S. Achille
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) did not protect an employee from termination for absenteeism resulting from alcoholism where reliable attendance at scheduled shifts was an essential function of the job.
Bruce VandenBroek, a boiler utility operator for PSEG Power Connecticut LLC (PSEG), alleged that the district court erred in finding that he was terminated because of his violation of PSEG’s “no call/no show” policy rather than because of his alcoholism. The district court stated that the ADA specifically permits employers to “hold an employee who is an alcoholic to the same qualification standards for employment or job performance and behavior that such entity holds other employees, even if any unsatisfactory performance or behavior is related to the alcoholism of such employee.”
Among the criteria necessary to establish a prima-facie case of discrimination under the ADA, one must show that he was otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. “Essential functions” are duties that are fundamental to the job in question, and considerable deference is accorded to an employer’s judgment in determining which duties are fundamental.
While “ ‘regularly attending work’ is an essential function of virtually every job,” the 2nd Circuit emphasized that it was especially important for a boiler utility operator who had to be present at the power plant to monitor the boiler and respond to alarms to ensure against a power outage or explosion. The 2nd Circuit pointed out that it was for this reason PSEG’s employment rules made those who violate the “no call/no show” policy subject to discharge for the first offense. Although the plant general manager testified that VandenBroek “was a good operator” when he showed up for work, the 2nd Circuit contended that this evidence would not permit a reasonable jury to find that PSEG could rely on VandenBroek to appear for his shifts at the time he was terminated.
The 2nd Circuit noted that “absenteeism resulting from alcoholism is a factor that bears on whether an employee is ‘otherwise qualified.’ ” Whereas reliable attendance at scheduled shifts was an essential function for a boiler utility operator, the 2nd Circuit affirmed that VandenBroek had not presented sufficient evidence that he was “otherwise qualified” to perform his job.
VandenBroek v. PSEG Power CT LLC, 2nd Cir., No. 09-1109 (Dec. 11, 2009).
Professional Pointer: Although an alcoholic is a person with a disability under the ADA and may be entitled to consideration of accommodation, any substance abuser may be required to meet the same standards of performance and conduct that are set for other employees.
By Roger S. Achille, an attorney and associate professor at Johnson & Wales University, Graduate School of Business, in Providence, R.I.
Editor’s Note: This article should not be construed as legal advice.