Dead Drunk: Boozin It Up And Falling Down (On The Job)

Every now and then a story comes along that is a good counterpoint to a previously published blog post.  On May 2nd my partner Amy Epstein Gluck did a post here entitled– “Boozin It Up: When You Suspect Your Employee Is An Alcoholic.”

The Customary, Alk, Alcohol, Alcoholics“Boozin it up”

Amy posed the question: “What happens when you, as the employer, suspect that one of your employees has a drug or alcohol abuse problem, but you’re not sure because the employee sometimes just appears hung over in the morning?”

She then offered up wise counsel on this issue. She talked about alcoholism as a disability under the ADA; employee rehabilitation and counseling; a modified work schedule as a reasonable accommodation; the “interactive process” to determine if an accommodation is needed to correct the problem; and even a “last chance agreement.”

The post was widely read and quoted because the advice she provided was so sensible and easy to follow.

Boozin It Up And Dead Drunk On The Job

However, what if the employee shows up for work dead drunk, falls on the floor, and is seen reading a book – upside down?  This goes beyond simply boozin it up and having an alcohol abuse problem.  This can constitute gross misconduct.

Its not often that a case deserves mention simply because it – well, it illustrates this point so well.

A UK newspaper reported on an unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal case tried before a UK employment tribunal where a British Airways flight attendant was fired for gross misconduct for allegedly being drunk on the job at Heathrow Airport.  She did her best to bob and weave every which way in her own defense, but the tribunal was having none of it.

The attendant was reportedly “steaming” drunk upon arrival at the airport, reeked of alcohol, and was seen “zig-zagging” across the walkway (or “travelator” in the UK) before she fell over (an incident she referred to merely as a “funny turn”).

When video of her falling over the walkway was shown before the tribunal, she testified that she had no memory of the incident and that, anyway, “I agree I’m not completely walking in a straight line, but I’m not staggering.”

Wooden Figures, Stones, Plunge, Fall“Falling down – on the job”

There was also testimony from three witnesses that she appeared to be reading a book, but the book was upside down.

The article noted that “Tribunal judge Stephen Vowels ruled that the BA air hostess was definitely drunk and dismissed her claims that she fell over because of the menopause … Judge Vowels said Ms Whitmore was ‘quite literally falling over drunk’ when she entered the airport.”

Takeaway: The tabloid-appropriate nature of this case (and indeed it was reported in a UK tabloid) makes it a little more over-the-top than most cases reported on, and thinking of an appropriate takeaway was not an easy matter.

However, I defer to the sober comment to the tab article from a UK reader:

“Very interesting case that could impact many organisations’ choices as to how long they allow a behaviour to continue. Much of this could be assisted with suitable understanding of any medical conditions that employees have and how they affect day to day work.”

Well put and sensitive.  But being dead drunk on the job can land you unemployed.


Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 115 other subscribers

Posted in

Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]