Ill.: Employee’s Discharge for Violation of Alcohol and Drug Policy Upheld

By By SHRM Online staff Jan 5, 2015

An Illinois federal trial court upheld a company’s decision to discharge an employee for violation of its alcohol and drug policy despite the worker’s claims that the employer failed to follow the policy’s procedures prior to his termination.

Thomas Wainscott was employed at Equistar Chemicals LP from 1977 until his termination on Dec. 12, 2012. Equistar maintained an employee manual containing a drug and alcohol policy, and Wainscott had a copy of the manual. Equistar’s drug and alcohol policy requires employees who are reasonably suspected of using, possessing, or being under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs while on Equistar premises to undergo mandatory testing. The company’s policy requires a screening test followed by a confirmation test. If the test results are greater than 0.04 percent the employee will have failed the test resulting in a violation under the policy.

Equistar ordered Wainscott to submit to a breath test for the detection of alcohol on Dec. 9, 2012. He was tested at 7:01 pm, resulting in an initial reading of 0.53 percent. He took a second test at 7:42 pm and had a reading of 0.42 percent. Equistar terminated Wainscotts employment on Dec. 12, 2012, based on the results of the alcohol tests.

Wainscott filed a complaint for breach contract, claiming that the company’s drug and alcohol policy created an express contract or, alternatively, an implied contract. Equistar filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

According to the trial court, in Illinois, employment relationships of indefinite duration are terminable “at will” by either party without cause unless facts support the existence of a contract. The court stated that Equistar’s drug and alcohol policy contains no language expressly or impliedly limiting Equistars power to terminate employees. The policy is a warning to employees about conduct or circumstances that will result in termination. Employees who test at or above the alcohol threshold level of 0.04 percent will be in violation of company policy. Equistars policy further states that, “The Companys zero-tolerance rule is reflected in our disciplinary action through termination on the first offense, where allowed by law.”

Wainscott alleged that Equistar failed to follow the procedures in its drug and alcohol policy prior to his termination. He argued that the confirmation test was nearly 45 minutes later than the initial test and that it was improperly administered. However, the company policy did not provide a maximum time frame for the second test, only that it occur “at least 15 minutes” after the initial test, according to the court. According to Wainscott, Equistar required that he submit to alcohol testing, his initial test exceeded the threshold level and the second test, administered at least 15 minutes after the first, also exceeded the threshold level. Based on the express language of the policy, Equistar carried out its warning to Wainscott that violation of the policy may result in termination on the first offense. The court granted Equistars motion to dismiss.

Wainscott v. Equistar Chemicals, LP, N.D. Ill, No. 14-cv-2938 (Nov. 10, 2015).

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