Tia Schneider Denenberg, an arbitrator, served as the program advisor for the AAA conference on the Arbitration of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Cases in April 1980. The analysis in this article is based upon a survey of the more than 200 alcohol and drug abuse cases published in the Labor Arbitration Reports during the last 30 years. Susan Mackenzie and Steve Silvia assisted in the research
An analysis of awards demonstrates that arbitrators vary markedly in their approach toward cases involving employee alcohol or drug abuse. The disparities apparently reflect underlying differences about the nature of chemical dependency, and they highlight the value of early assistance to the troubled employee.
Alcohol and drug abuse in the workplace cause alarming economic loss' and personal tragedy. Employees in all categories—from the shop floor to the executive suite— have proven susceptible to chemical dependency, whose manifestations include poor job performance, absenteeism, lateness, and erratic behavior, in many industries it is often left to an arbitrator to decide how to deal with an employee whose work has been affected by alcohol or drugs. Yet, there is a great divergence of views in the arbitration community about what alcoholism and drug abuse are and what approach should be taken with those who suffer from them. Some consider alcoholism a disorder to be treated like any illness. Others, however, hesitate to draw a close analogy to other illnesses, primarily because they are unwilling to disregard what they consider an element of personal responsibility. To varying degrees, alcoholics and drug dependents are held accountable for their condition in a way that diabetics or cardiac patients are not.