Ontario Tribunal Rules Duty to Accommodate Alcoholic Employee Not Unlimited

In Cudmore v. Inter Cap Industries (February 20, 2009), the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario clarified that there are limits on an employer’s duty to accommodate alcoholic or drug-addicted employees.

Cudmore violated a workplace rule by coming to work under the influence of alcohol on two occasions. On the first occasion, he was given a three-day suspension and warned that a repeated violation of the rule would result in his termination. Cudmore again came to work while intoxicated and was dismissed. Cudmore filed a complaint with the Tribunal, stating that he had been discriminated against on the basis of disability and that his employer had failed to accommodate his disability.

The Tribunal upheld Inter Cap’s decision to dismiss Cudmore. The Tribunal found that Inter Cap had repeatedly asked Cudmore whether he required assistance or accommodation for an addiction or dependence problem, and had even offered him time off to attend a rehabilitation centre. However, Cudmore denied having a problem and refused accommodation. The Tribunal concluded that, in cases such as this one, where an employee refuses to acknowledge that he has a problem and refuses to accept accommodations for it, the employer will have met its duty to accommodate and termination may be justified.

This case confirms that an employer has an obligation to make inquiries as to whether an employee requires alcohol-related assistance. However, an employee who fails to cooperate may discharge the employer from its continued duty to accommodate.