USC and Alcoholism
In case you don’t follow sports, on Monday October 12th, the University of Southern California terminated their head football coach, Steve Sarkisian. The termination results from numerous headlines coming out recently about Sarkisian showing up to games, practices, and team events under the influence of alcohol. In August, Sarkisian came under fire for a drunken outburst at USC’s “Salute to Troy” event, which is a prestigious event for boosters of the university. He apologized for his actions, vowing for it not to happen again.
On Sunday October 11th, Sarkisian was not at practice and athletic director Pat Haden said that he was, “not well,” and left the team to seek treatment. The following day, he was officially terminated from his position at USC. The university is in a potentially difficult situation now because it must claim that he was terminated for showing up drunk to work, opposed to being fired for being an alcoholic, as Steve Sarkisian self-identifies as an alcoholic. Under the Americans with Disability Act and most state anti-discrimination statutes, alcoholism meets the definition of a disability. While it is officially covered as a disability, that doesn’t mean that the employers can tolerate employees drinking or being drunk on the job.
Alcoholism is a horrible disease that effects many people in the U.S. It is very important for the employer to clearly define that drinking at work is not allowed, whether they suffer from alcoholism or not. By having this in the handbook, it protects the employer from discrimination claims. If the employee is not meeting the standards required at work whether they are an alcoholic or not, the employer will be protected from discrimination if they have a well-defined section in the employee handbook. If they can’t meet the standards, then the employer has a right to discipline that employee.
Volvo and PTSD
In our article yesterday, we explained how alcoholism is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), yet an employee who is suffering from alcoholism can still be lawfully terminated. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disease that effects many people, although mostly returning military members. PTSD is officially covered under the ADA with the following examples of reasonable accommodations:
- Flexible scheduling at a retail store or restaurant, so a sales clerk or cashier with PTSD can attend counseling sessions or an employee with a spinal cord injury who has a lengthy personal care routine in the mornings can start his or her workday later.
- Allowing more frequent work breaks or providing backup coverage when an employee who has PTSD needs to take a break.
- Allowing someone suffering from PTSD to bring in a service animal that has been trained to calm the person when he/she has an anxiety attack. In this case, the employer must modify their “no-pet policy” if one exists.
In 2006, the automaker Volvo hired a woman in the army reserve, and knew she was a reservist at the time. During the 6 years that the servicewoman worked at Volvo, she was deployed twice for 29 months total. As a requirement of being in the army reserve, the servicewoman also took leave for weekend drills and active duty training. While she was deployed, she developed PTSD, which she took time off to treat back stateside while at Volvo. In total, she took more than 900 days of military leave during her time at Volvo.
While she was employed, Volvo initially was flexible with her and accommodated her to take leave for deployments and training, and leave to treat PTSD. She was eventually terminated for what Volvo claimed as “attendance issues,” for showing up late numerous times. The servicewoman believed that she was being treated harshly for taking so much leave for the military.
During the investigation, Volvo turned over a number of documents and emails and the investigators discovered that the servicewoman was correct. In the emails, the employers discussed possibly disciplining her, denying her leave, and talked about the burden that the military leave had on Volvo. What this shows, is a clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and why the act is put in place, to prevent discrimination for people suffering from a disease.