Worker gets the boot when he can’t kick habit

Operator must stay clean for compensation

An operator for Clean Harbors Canada, known only as the grievor, was fired after he failed to complete the rehabilitation program for which he had been granted a leave of absence.

The grievor was discharged for "excessive absenteeism" in December 2009. In January 2010, Teamsters Local Union 419 and Clean Harbors Canada — based in Mississauga, Ont. — came to an agreement that the grievor could return to work if he could meet certain conditions related to attendance.

The conditions remained in force for 18 months and expired on June 30, 2011. The period of time between his dismissal and reinstatement was treated as an unpaid suspension, which remained on his record for 18 months.

Six weeks after the conditions of the settlement expired, on Aug. 15, 2011, the grievor was absent from work for a long period. He asked for a leave of absence to seek treatment for alcoholism and depression using the company’s employment assistance program.

He told his general manager he was waiting to be admitted to a 35-day residential program at Homewood and he expected to return to work on Nov. 15.

The grievor called Clean Harbors Canada on Dec. 5 to ask for a meeting to begin the process of returning to work. At the Dec. 7 meeting the grievor informed the employer he had left the program on Nov. 23. He told the employer he wanted to return to work and take part in a 90-day out-patient program.

Clean Harbors Canada operates a waste transfer station that handles hazardous substances. The employer was concerned the grievor’s untreated alcohol dependence and depression could make him a danger.

So, in January 2012 he was fired. Following his dismissal, the grievor revealed that not only had he not completed the Homewood program, he had only attended the program for part of one day on Nov. 23.

The grievor did, however, go on to attend a three-week non-residential treatment program in mid-April 2012 and through a referral, the grievor began seeing a doctor in June 2012, and attended weekly appointments. The doctor reported the grievor receives methadone treatments for opiate "drug addiction" and that he was stable and capable of returning to work. Wong said he had no knowledge of any treatment for alcohol abuse or depression.

The grievor testified that he attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, though he was unsure of the exact date of his last drink.

Keep clean

However, Clean Harbors felt it had accommodated the grievor to the point of undue hardship.

The arbitrator disagreed. In her decision, Paula Knopf judged the termination premature, and based on a previous disciplinary response that was no longer on record. The arbitrator also rejected the union’s assertion that the grievor is ready to resume his regular duties in a workplace that is as safety conscious as Clean Harbors.

Knopf ruled the grievor reinstated to employment status with full seniority, but without compensation, subject to several conditions. That includes completing the back-to-work protocol for employees with addiction issues.

He must provide the results of drug testing to the employer every three months, seek treatment for his alcohol dependency and depression.

The arbitrator ruled the conditions will remain in force for 18 months and remain on the grievor’s personnel file permanently.

Reference: Clean Harbors Canada and Teamsters Local Union 419. Paula Knopf — Sole Arbitrator. Kristin Taylor for the Employer. Marisa Pollock and Nadine Blum for the Union. July 26, 2013.

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