I recently came across an interesting case that employers may want to be aware of. The case, Caporicci v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., involved an employee who sued Chipotle for firing her after she had a bad reaction on the job to medication that she took for her bipolar disorder.
Chipotle has a drug policy prohibiting employees from reporting to work under the influence of alcohol, drugs or controlled substances, and also requires that employees who use medically prescribed or over-the-counter drugs that may adversely affect their ability to perform work in a safe manner notify their manager prior to starting work.
An employee in Tampa suffering from bipolar disorder began taking a new medication, which caused her to become dizzy and disoriented at work. She began making mistakes, including folding a burrito upside-down. Her manager sent her home, and she was eventually fired for being intoxicated at work. The manager then emailed company headquarters to inform it that the employee had come into work appearing to be intoxicated, and had therefore been fired.
The employee then sued, arguing that she had been fired due to her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The court ruled for Chipotle, finding that its policy was reasonable and not a violation of the ADA, and that the employee clearly violated it. It found that the employee was fired due to intoxication, not disability, and therefore did not engage in illegal discrimination.
The lesson here for employers is that Chipotle was able to avoid liability by having in place good policies for dealing with employees who under the influence of drugs and alcohol, even if those drugs were legally prescribed. Additionally, Chipotle did a good job documenting whether the employee was in compliance with this policy, as the manager documented the reason for firing the employee via email.
Also, it appears as though Chipotle enforced its drug and alcohol policy consistently. This was a good move. Had Chipotle given certain employees breaks, even when they were perhaps well-deserved, this would have opened the door to claims that the company was biased against this particular employee by not also giving her a break. Employers should be sure to enforce their policies uniformly and fairly in order to avoid liability.
Feel free to contact me if you have questions about implementing and enforcing a drug and alcohol policy.