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Fighting that Well-Known Irrational Prejudice Against Drunkards

Posted By Don Boudreaux On September 6, 2011 @ 12:37 pm In Hubris and humility,Not from the Onion,Reality Is Not Optional,Regulation | Comments Disabled

From this August 16, 2011, press release [1] by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (HT Reuvain Borchardt):

Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., a  trucking company with a service center in Fort Smith, Ark., violated federal  law by discriminating against at least one truck driver because of  self-reported alcohol abuse, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today. The company should have met its legal  obligation to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act while assuring  safety, rather than permanently sidelining self-reporting drivers, the EEOC  contended.

An argument can be made that if a private trucking firm (or taxi firm, or tugboat firm, or airline, or any private firm that hires people to drive or pilot vehicles) fires drivers or pilots who self-report their alcohol problems, alcoholic drivers and pilots will have less incentive to self-report.  One consequence, then, might be that the roads, air, and waterways will be filled with more drunken drivers and pilots.

On the other hand, having self-confessed alcoholics driving or piloting vehicles creates obvious problems.

Are these problems appropriately minimized by not firing self-reporting alcoholics and, instead, putting them on leave or giving them a desk job?  Perhaps.  But perhaps not.  Perhaps knowledge that firing isn’t in the cards – while making employees more likely than otherwise to report substance-abuse problems – makes employees less likely to avoid substance abuse in the first place.  The trade-offs here are numerous and nuanced.

Surely each firm has appropriate incentives to try to strike the right trade-offs.  If a private firm fires an alcoholic truck driver, and then government bureaucrats – some all aflame with self-appointed missions to inflict their own brand of “justice” on the world, and others tempted by the additional litigation experience that such actions add to their resumes – take legal action against the firm for doing so, the likely consequence is that more trucks, planes, and boats will, in the future, be driven and piloted by drunkards and other substance abusers.

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[1] this August 16, 2011, press release: http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/8-16-11d.cfm

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