Hospital Legally Fired Pharmacist Who Finished Drug Rehab Program

 

By Joanne Deschenaux August 1, 2019
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​Although employers must let employees participate in drug rehabilitation programs, a hospital did not violate California law by firing its pharmacy manager after she completed a rehab program, a California appeals court ruled. 

Allowing the plaintiff to return to her job would have violated her agreement with the rehab facility, the court said, noting that California law does not always mandate continued employment.

Background

In June 1990, the plaintiff began working as a pharmacist for the hospital. While employed by the hospital, she started working for a retail store also, as an on-call pharmacist. In March 2014, a manager at the store confronted her about missing Vicodin, a controlled substance. The plaintiff said she had a drug addiction and agreed to attend a drug rehabilitation program.

In May 2014, the plaintiff told her manager at the hospital that she was going on medical leave, which she took from June 16 through Aug. 16, 2014. She did not tell anyone at the hospital that she would be participating in a rehab program.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Employing and Managing People with Addictions]

When the plaintiff was scheduled to return to work at the hospital, she met with her supervisor and disclosed her addiction treatment for the first time. She gave her supervisor a copy of the contract she had signed with the company that ran the rehabilitation facility, which said she could return to a job as a pharmacist under two conditions:

  • She could not be a pharmacy manager.
  • She had to have a worksite monitor, who would observe her behavior and performance during work.

On Oct. 1, 2014, the hospital fired the plaintiff, and the plaintiff sued. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, and the plaintiff appealed.

Employer Duties

California law requires every private employer with 25 or more workers to reasonably accommodate any employee who voluntarily participates in an alcohol or drug rehabilitation program, provided that this accommodation doesn't impose an undue hardship on the employer.

The law does not prevent an employer from firing a worker who, because of the use of alcohol or drugs, can't perform his or her duties or can't perform them safely.

The court concluded that the hospital did not violate state law. The plaintiff was not fired because she participated in a drug rehabilitation program. Rather, the court said, she was let go because her agreement with the rehab facility prevented her from fulfilling her job as a pharmacy manager.

The plaintiff, the court said, cited no authority for her claim that California law required the hospital to move her into another position. Instead, the court noted, California Labor Code Section 1025 expressly allows an employer to fire an employee who cannot perform job duties safely.

The court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the lawsuit.

Hallak v. Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, Calif. Ct. App., No. C082875 (July 12, 2019).

Professional Pointer: By requiring an employer to allow an employee to participate in a drug rehabilitation program, California law goes further than federal law in mandating an accommodation. However, as this case shows, this required accommodation has limits.

Joanne Deschenaux, J.D., is a freelance writer in Annapolis, Md. 

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