Is my discipline for drinking a private matter? 

A few months ago we had a company party. While at the party I had a few too many drinks. My coworkers got me into a cab and sent me on my way home. The following week, my manager called me into the office and sat me down with another manager and our HR representative. They had me sign a contract that I would not drink at any future work functions, they informed me they would also be telling my main boss of the incident, and that was all. Two days ago I found out my manager has told at least one other person of the incident and my counseling. Is it legal for my manager to spread the word around the office about my counseling and the contract I signed prohibiting me from consuming alcohol at work related outings?

Posted 04-12-2012

Ann Kiernan replies:

From your description, it sounds like you signed a “last chance agreement”. Such agreements are commonly used in connection with disciplinary actions involving an employee’s misuse of drugs or alcohol. You have not said whether you have been diagnosed with alcoholism, which is a disability under state and federal law, but be aware that, although last chance agreements, by their nature, impose employment conditions on employees with alcoholism that are different from those imposed on other employees, courts have consistently found that terminations for violations of such agreements are not discriminatory.

Even if you are not an alcoholic, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers must keep employee medical information confidential. So your boss absolutely should not be going around telling others that you are in counseling. General privacy principles also require managers to keep employee discipline confidential, and discussed only with people who need to know, for work-related reasons. However, the fact that you got drunk at a company function and, perhaps, misbehaved—while certainly embarrassing—is not confidential information.

If your boss has widely spread the news about your medical condition and/or discipline, you may want to consult a local employment lawyer to find out about your rights under Illinois law. Congratulations on dealing with your alcohol problem, and good luck.

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.

2016-11-18T16:00:39+00:00

About the Author:

Ann Kiernan has litigated claims of wrongful discharge and discrimination before state and federal courts and administrative matters before the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, representing both employers and employees. Ms. Kiernan co-hosted The Employee Rights Forum, a weekly radio call-in show reaching up to a half-million listeners in the New York metropolitan area, and her articles on employment law have been published in many books and magazines. Both as a firm partner and as a director, Ms. Kiernan gained solid experience in management and human resources compliance. She has worked with Fair Measures since 1997.