Alcoholism was not a disability

By judgment of 13 June 2014, the Danish Eastern High Court found that alcoholism was not a disability and that the summary dismissal was justified.

The case involved a dental hygienist who was summarily dismissed after having caused injury to a patient during a tooth cleaning under the influence.

The dental hygienist, who had been employed at the clinic since 2002, was diagnosed with alcoholism according to a medical certificate from her own doctor. In 2006, the dental hygienist - with support from the employer - was admitted to a treatment centre for six weeks. After an alcohol-induced incident in 2010, the employer arranged for the dental hygienist to participate in AA meetings. Alcohol consumption and treatment thereof were regularly discussed between the dental hygienist and the employer.

As such, the dental hygienist argued that the summary dismissal was contrary to the Danish Anti-Discrimination Act in that alcoholism constituted a disability.

The High Court took into account that the dental hygienist for a number of years prior to the summary dismissal had had an alcohol abuse problem. However, the High Court was not satisfied that the long-standing overconsumption of alcohol had entailed a more permanent decreased functionality. For this reason, if for no other, the High Court did not find that her alcohol abuse could be considered a disability as defined by the EU Court of Justice in the Ring and Werge cases and in the Supreme Court case U.2013.2575H.

Consequently, the High Court was only to consider whether the summary dismissal of the dental hygienist, which was based on her having caused injury to a patient under the influence, was justified.

After the production of evidence, the court took the view that on 23 April 2012, the employee had been inebriated to the point that she was not capable of performing her job. This constituted such a material breach of the employment relationship that the summary dismissal had been justified. The High Court took into account that the employer on several occasions, including at a job appraisal interview in 2011, had stressed that working under the influence would result in a termination of the employment.

The judgment shows that in accordance with previous case law, a more permanent decreased functionality is required in order to be comprised by the concept of disability. By this judgment, the court has not taken a final position on whether alcoholism would constitute a disability under the Anti-Discrimination Act if the employee as a consequence thereof would be incapable of participating on an equal footing with others in the labour market for a longer period of time.

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