A trucking company based in Quebec has been told they are legally obligated to rehire a truck driver who crashed her truck under the influence of alcohol because it constitutes a “disability” under Canadian law.
According to the National Post, the driver, who worked for trucking company Groupe Robert, was fired on June 30, 2022, after she drank nine beers before losing control of her vehicle on a highway in Pennsylvania. The driver reportedly stopped twice to buy beers on her way from Montreal to the United States, three of which she drank en route. After crashing the vehicle and causing damage to the truck, she was arrested.
Despite driving with more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in her system while she was on the clock, a labor arbitrator on the case, who is a judge chosen by the employer to resolve internal disputes, ruled that while “the driver’s actions amounted to serious misconduct,” the reason she drank on the job was because of a disability relating to alcoholism.
“The night of the accident, she needed to drink,” arbitrator Huguette April said. “She admitted that even though she knew she shouldn’t, the need was stronger, like something that she couldn’t control.”
In response to April’s decision to force Groupe Robert to rehire its former employee, Kim Leclerc, a spokeswoman for the company, said it will appeal the verdict because its decision to fire the driver “was not taken lightly.”
“At Groupe Robert, the safety of all road users is our absolute priority,” wrote Leclerc in an email on Monday. “We have a responsibility to the community to ensure that our employees meet the highest safety standards.”
Although the driver allegedly told her employer, Groupe Robert, about her alcoholism days before the crash, its failure to verify the driver’s alcoholism or implement processes to prevent alcohol-related accidents from happening violated her rights as an employee with a disability.
Dependence on drugs or alcohol is defined as a disability, according to The Canadian Human Rights Act, meaning all employers have a legal obligation to accommodate any grounds listed in the Act, including alcoholism or a positive drug test:
“If an employer believes that an employee may be substance-dependent, everyone involved—the employee, the employer, and the union and/or employee representative—has a responsibility to approach the issue in a respectful, collaborative and timely manner.”
In an email, Marc-Andre Gauthier, a spokesman for the union representing the driver, explained that despite road safety being a priority, it “has an obligation to defend its members in work-related matters, regardless of the circumstances.”