In a baffling court decision, an electrician accused of excessive drinking on the job emerges victorious, sparking debate over workplace safety and employee rights.
A Spanish court recently concluded that an electrical company had no grounds to dismiss an electrician who allegedly consumed over three liters of beer while working, as the company failed to provide irrefutable evidence that the employee was intoxicated on the job.
Although consuming alcohol during work hours is generally considered inappropriate and can lead to termination, the high court in Murcia, Spain, asserted that dismissal is only warranted when an employer can definitively prove that the worker’s inebriation rendered them incapable of safely performing their duties.
Consequently, the court ordered the electrical company to either reinstate the employee or compensate him with 47,000 euros ($52,000). The contentious ruling also highlighted the company’s failure to account for the sweltering Murcian summer, which, the court suggested, could justify beer consumption.
Back in September 2021, the electrician, a 27-year veteran with the company, was fired after a private investigator provided evidence of the employee’s consistent alcohol consumption during work hours across several weeks. The company had hired the detective to monitor the electrician and his colleagues, who were reportedly observed drinking large quantities of beer daily.
The dismissal letter cited an instance in which the electrician and a colleague were observed having a drink at a bar at 8:27 a.m. Later that day, they bought food, four cans of San Miguel beer, and a liter bottle of Estrella de Levante beer during lunch. The electrician was then seen consuming an additional can of beer in the afternoon and another around 6:30 p.m. before driving the company van back to the base.
A fortnight later, the private investigator documented the electrician and his colleagues consuming a combined seven liters of beer between morning and the end of lunch, followed by three more cans later in the day, before driving the company van again. In another instance, the electrician drank a can of beer, three glasses of wine, and a shot of Pomace brandy.
Despite the seemingly ample evidence, the Murcian high court sided with the electrician, ordering the company to either rehire or compensate him. The court reasoned that the private investigator’s report lacked any mention of visible signs of intoxication or unsteady gait, and no documentary, expert, or witness testimony conclusively established that the electrician was inebriated or impaired during his duties or while driving the company van.
Additionally, the court’s ruling emphasized that the company failed to consider the fact that the electrician drank alcoholic beverages with colleagues while eating and “needing refreshments.” Furthermore, it was impossible to determine each individual’s alcohol consumption and level of inebriation.
The court also pointed out that the events occurred in July, in Murcia and Cartagena, where the local climate and customs should be taken into account. The perplexing decision has sparked a heated debate about workplace safety, employee rights, and the extent of judicial involvement in such matters.
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