Arbitration Award Appealed in Case Involving Positive Drug Test

After an arbitrator ruled that a wholesale beverage company did not have just cause for terminating a union-affiliated driver who produced drug test results positive for cocaine, the wholesaler appealed the decision to federal court.

The original arbitration case involved International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 59 (Union), which represented drivers for Colonial Wholesale Beverage Co. (Colonial). In this case, the Union filed a grievance regarding the termination of a driver, arguing that it was without cause. Colonial countered, presenting evidence that the driver had been terminated based on its substance abuse policy as outlined in the parties' collective bargaining agreement employee handbook. It was the Union's position that the driver's positive drug test was the result of cocaine use that occurred at a party several days before the test and that he was neither impaired at work nor at the time the test was administered. Ultimately, the arbitrator found that Colonial lacked just cause to terminate the driver.

Colonial moved to vacate the award in federal court, arguing that the arbitrator exceeded authority by applying an incorrect standard. Colonial contended that the arbitrator should have focused his analysis broadly, relative to "what should be the appropriate outcome for (the driver) in light of his positive test result" as opposed to whether there was just cause for the driver's authority. While the grounds to vacate a labor arbitration award are narrow, courts will vacate awards where it is clear an arbitrator has exceeded his authority under the contract or substituted his judgment as to what is "industrial justice."

The outcome of this appeal is pending.

Employers are encouraged to review internal drug testing policies and take note of National Safety Council recommendations regarding drug testing in safety sensitive positions, as well as the United States Department of Transportation testing requirements for CDL holders.

Posted: January 4, 2021

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