Quebec trucking company ordered to reinstate driver fired for drinking and driving

MONTREAL – A Quebec trucking company has been ordered to reinstate a driver who was fired after she drank at least nine beers before she lost control of her truck on a Pennsylvania highway.

The driver’s actions amounted to serious misconduct, but her drinking was the result of a disability — alcoholism — and trucking company Groupe Robert should have made a reasonable accommodation for her, labour arbitrator Huguette April said in her written July 18 decision.

“The night of the accident, she needed to drink,” April said. “She admitted that even though she knew she shouldn’t, the need was stronger, like something that she couldn’t control.”

Groupe Robert fired the driver after she was involved in a single-vehicle crash shortly before midnight on June 30, 2022.

The facts of the case say the driver stopped twice to buy six packs of beer as she drove from a Montreal suburb to Pennsylvania. The woman admitted she drank at least nine beers during the trip, but she said she didn’t remember whether she drank the final three on the road. After the crash, which damaged the truck but caused no injuries, she was arrested with a blood-alcohol level that was 0.18 — more than twice the legal limit.

The driver told her employer about her drinking problem about a week after the crash, one day after she sought medical help to stop drinking. She was officially fired Aug. 31, after she had completed an in-patient addiction treatment program.

April said there is no evidence Groupe Robert asked or verified whether their troubled employee suffered from alcoholism.

The driver told the arbitrator the company could have installed an alcohol testing device in her truck after the crash, or found other work for her.

Groupe Robert, meanwhile, told April that the collective agreement between the company and the union representing drivers is clear: The penalty for drinking and driving is immediate termination of employment.

The company said it will appeal the decision.

“At Groupe Robert, the safety of all road users is our absolute priority,” company spokesman Kim Leclerc wrote in an email on Monday. Leclerc said the decision to fire the driver “was not taken lightly.”

“We have a responsibility to the community to ensure that our employees meet the highest safety standards.”

Marc-André Gauthier, a spokesman for Teamsters Canada, the union that represents the driver and that challenged her dismissal, said it has an obligation to defend its members in work-related matters, regardless of the circumstances.

Road safety is a priority for the union, Gauthier said in an email Monday.

“We encourage drivers to respect driving laws and transport companies to put the necessary policies and tools to allow their employees to practise their profession in complete safety,” he wrote, adding that the union cannot comment further because the company is appealing the arbitrator’s decision.