The Seattle P-I recently reported that a Bellevue teacher is demanding his job back after what he calls an illegal firing. Erik Schock, an 11-year employee at Chinook Middle School, was terminated earlier this year after he arrived to work drunk. Schock, a P.E. teacher is believed to have had a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit when he arrived at the school and began teaching students. An assistant principal noticed the smell of alcohol on his breath and his bloodshot eyes, contacted the school district’s attorney, and Schock was given a blood alcohol test. Schock’s firing was upheld at an administrative review, where he did not deny his intoxication while at work. He has now filed a lawsuit against the Bellevue School District claiming that being drunk at work was not “flagrant misconduct” or grounds for termination. Schock also claims that this situation has been a wakeup call about his drinking.
Drug Free Workplace
The Federal Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988 requires employers with federal contracts and grants to provide drug free workplaces. A majority of state and federal agencies and contractors either have or are required to have drug free workplace policies. Governmental drug free workplace policies almost always include drug testing requirements, procedures and consequences for positive tests, including termination.
Private employers are not required by law to have these workplace policies nor are they required to drug test their employees. In fact, some states set limits and restrictions on private employers’ ability to drug test employees. However, employers are allowed to prohibit the use of alcohol or other illegal drugs on their premises and prohibit their employees from being under the influence while they are working. Employers may also institute drug screenings. Washington state law does not prohibit or limit employers’ rights to enforce drug free workplace policies and testing.
Even though recreational marijuana use, like alcohol use, is legal in Washington, employers can still restrict employee use while on working and on employer property and it is still a federal crime.
Alcoholism and the Drug Free Workplace
According to the ADA and Washington’s Law Against Discrimination, alcoholism can be a disability. To discriminate against an alcoholic or recovering alcoholic solely based on the prior alcoholism or current treatment could be in violation of state and federal laws. If an employee is a recovering alcoholic, that employee could ask for schedule accommodations to attend recovery group meetings or other recovery programs. Some employers even have education and assistance programs in place for their employees.
Even with disability protections, being drunk or drinking while working could create legal grounds for termination. If an employee agrees to the drug free workplace policy, generally a condition of employment, and then violated the policy while in the workplace, an employer can take corrective actions including termination. In the case of Mr. Schock, he violated Bellevue School District’s drug free workplace policy and interacted with children while significantly intoxicated. His termination could be upheld by the court even if he does seek rehabilitation and is an alcoholic, especially if his intoxication around children is considered workplace misconduct.
Situations like Schock’s and creation of a drug free workplace policy can be complicated.