Recently in this blog, we discussed a local teacher demanding he get his job back despite the fact that he arrived to work drunk and proceeded to teach young children while he was intoxicated. His violation of the school’s drug free workplace policy seemed like a fairly straight forward, non-discriminatory grounds for termination. However, when one considers alcoholism as a disability, the teacher still had a slim chance of proving he was discriminated against because of his disability and getting his job back.
Seattle Seahawks cornerback, Brandon Browner, avoided termination for his alleged violation of the National Football Leagues’ (NFL) substance abuse policy. But it is unlikely that he will be able to argue that his suspension was discriminatory. The NFL player denies using performance enhancing drugs, which was initially reported as the reason for his suspension, yet he still faces a year-long suspension for the violation of the policy. Since there are any number of substances, like alcohol, marijuana, and other illegal drugs that could violate the policy beyond performance enhancing drugs, it is not clear that his violation was related to alcohol or not so it is possible he could make the disability argument if he wanted, but it is unlikely.
Repercussions of Policy Violations
Employers will undoubtedly have numerous policies for their employees. As Browner’s suspension illustrates, termination is not the only possible consequence when a person violates a company’s policies. Company handbooks almost always have the phrase that say something like “violations are subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination.”
Termination is obviously the most severe and most likely to lead to legal action from the dismissed employee. However employers, generally speaking, prefer to not have to terminate their employees due to potential losses in training costs, unemployment costs, and the amount of time required to fill the vacated position. Moreover, terminating employees for violations, unless they are habitual or hazardous violations, can negatively affect employee morale and productivity. Employees also prefer to work for employers who are willing to provide assistance and second chances, even if they come along with other disciplinary actions.
Alternatives to termination are probation, reassignment, a demotion, reduction or loss of pay, and suspension to name a few. Occasionally employers will also provide or require additional training to correct and prevent future violations. Additionally, many of disciplinary actions can take different forms. For instances suspensions, or “forced leave”, can be paid or unpaid. Reassignments and reductions or loss of pay can be temporary or they may be more long-term. One could assume that Browner will need to complete a substance abuse program during his suspension before he can be reinstated, although no specific information on his situation has been released yet. What has been reported about Browner’s alternative disciplinary action is that he is in the final stage of the NFL’s drug program and he is facing a one-year suspension.
If you believe you have been wrongfully reprimanded or suspect that are serious policy or legal violation at your place of employment, contact a Washington employment attorney today.