HR Strange But True

Cupcake Wars—Drunk Desserts on the Job Not a Reason for Termination

Most people know that you can’t drink on the job, especially if you are a school bus driver, right? It also wouldn’t be a shock to anyone that a transportation worker would get in trouble for offering her coworkers booze. So, it’s kind of surprising that a company got into a lot of hot water for terminating a bus driver who brought alcohol-laced cupcakes to work.

A labor arbitrator recently upheld the grievance of a school bus driver who was terminated from her job after she brought cupcakes that contained alcohol to work.  Apparently, the company terminated her for “just cause” because, as most companies do, it had a policy that prohibited the presence of “intoxicating beverages.”

The company concluded that her “Irish Car Bombs” (which usually are made with stout beer, Irish whiskey, and Irish Cream liquor) and “Strawberry Margarita” cupcakes (usually made with tequila) were offered to the other workers, in violation of the policy. In fact, although it was not clear how many employees actually accepted the “adult” cupcakes, she did warn her coworkers not to drive after eating one, suggesting she was aware of their potentially intoxicating effects.

Ultimately, the company’s location manager told her to stop distributing the cupcakes and confiscated at least one for “evidence.” The driver was terminated, and her union filed a grievance.

The arbitrator agreed that the company did not have cause to terminate the would-be baker. The arbitrator’s primary reasoning turned on the definition of intoxicating “beverages,” which, according to the dictionary, meant a “drinkable liquid.” In sum, the arbitrator held that it was the company’s responsibility to clarify the scope of prohibited items. If the company wanted it to extend to intoxicating foodstuff, it had to provide the workers with sufficient notice.

Furthermore, the policy was not applied consistently because none of the other coworkers were disciplined for accepting the cupcakes and, therefore, technically possessing “intoxicating beverages” as well. As if that didn’t take the cake, the arbitrator pointed out that the company never bothered to actually test the cupcakes to determine whether they were, in fact, intoxicating.

Make sure you review your drug and alcohol policy. It’s important that it clearly spells out the company’s expectations about bringing intoxicating items to work. “Adult” foodstuff may be yummy and fun but may not be appropriate in all work settings.