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Is the Supreme Court Condoning Alcohol in the Workplace?

Company: bnt attorneys-at-law s.r.o.

Zero tolerance for alcohol in the workplace? According to a decision by the Supreme Court, traces of alcohol in one's blood need not give cause for dismissal from employment.

Does zero tolerance for alcohol in the workplace still apply? Is the presence of alcohol in the blood of employees grounds for immediate termination, even in small quantities? The Supreme Court has answered these questions, in its judgment 21 Cdo 4733/2015 of 19 December 2016.

An employee of VÍTKOVICE STEEL, a.s., working as shift supervisor, had had two non-alcoholic beers for dinner before he departed for the evening shift – where the employer took him aside for a breathalyzer test, only to find that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.32 ‰, 45 minutes before his shift, which half an hour later had dropped to 0.23 ‰ (when a blood test was administered, which yielded 0.11 ‰ blood alcohol). Being prohibited from entering the workplace under the influence of alcohol is a basic obligation of employees under the Labor Code, which is why the employer found its shift manager to be in serious breach of statutory obligations of the employee and dismissed him from employment [citing Sec. 52 (g) of the Labor Code]. However, the employee did not acquiesce and decided to fight his termination as being invalid in the Ostrava District Court; the court eventually found in his favor.

According to the Supreme Court, a number of aspects must be taken into account when looking at an instance of a breach of law by an employee: the specific circumstances of the case, the intensity of the breach and the way in which the law was breached, the position held by the employee, his or her track record so far, and the consequences of said breach (i.e., did the employee cause damage?). It is not sufficient, then, to establish that the employee had alcohol in their blood when arriving at the workplace, but one must further examine whether the degree to which they consumed alcohol had impact in the sense of impairing their mental faculties and their overall readiness for work. This supposedly holds true even if the employee in question works within the context of particularly hazardous operations. Given that, in the case at hand, the alcohol level in the employee's blood was near the error of measurement, the courts formed the view that the breach of legal regulations by the employee had not reached such intensity as to qualify as a serious breach within the meaning of Sec. 52 (g) of the Labor Code.

In our view, this ruling sets a dangerous precedent, as it does not discourage employees from consuming alcohol before reporting for work, or during work. In this sense, the Czech judiciary has dealt a nasty blow to the oft-cited concept of zero tolerance towards alcohol in the workplace.

Source: NS 21 Cdo 47333/2015


Eva Hladíková
bnt office



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