Yes, You May Fire an Alcoholic Employee for Shooting Himself While Drunk on the Job


That is even if his disability was the reason for the conduct, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Although unpublished (meaning it shouldn’t be cited as binding precedent), this ruling reinforces the principle that employers may hold employees with disabilities accountable for performance and conduct standards.

In Harrison v. Sheriff, Holmes County Florida, a lieutenant with a sheriff’s department suffered from mental health issues and alcoholism, which were known to his employer. One day, while working on call, the employee called a colleague (with whom he had an inappropriate sexual relationship) while drunk, crying and incomprehensible. She rushed to his location and saw him shoot and wound himself. During his subsequent leave for recovery from the gunshot wound, the lieutenant’s manager told him that if he didn’t resign, he would be investigated for both the shooting and his inappropriate sexual relationship. He resigned, and eventually sued his employer under the Rehabilitation Act (the analog to the Americans with Disabilities Act for public employees).

The Eleventh Circuit rejected the lieutenant’s argument that he was subjected to disability discrimination because his misconduct of shooting himself was directly tied to his disability of alcoholism and depression. The Eleventh Circuit noted that the misconduct constituted a “fireable offense irrespective of whether his disability involved depression and alcoholism.” As the Eleventh Circuit stated, the law does not require an employer “to countenance dangerous misconduct just because it was caused by a disability.” Here, the lieutenant was drunk while on call behind the wheel of his patrol car and discharged his firearm in the presence of others – putting himself, other officers and members of the community in danger.

The Eleventh Circuit’s ruling is consistent with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s position, set forth in its Guidance, “Applying Performance and Conduct Standards to Employees with Disabilities.” The EEOC states, “The ADA does not protect employees from the consequences of violating conduct requirements even where the conduct is caused by the disability.” Of course, employers must provide reasonable accommodations for known disabilities to enable employees to meet the conduct standards, if the employee makes known that they need an accommodation. But ultimately, they can be held accountable for meeting those standards.