Drug and Alcohol Addiction in the Workplace FAQ

Can I terminate someone because he or she has a substance abuse problem?

The short answer is no. Addiction to drugs and alcohol is a disease and as such constitutes a disability under human rights legislation. An employer has a duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship.

What employers must do is:

  • Enforce their drug and alcohol policy in a consistent and equitable manner
  • Document each encounter with the employee (why, where, when, with whom and with what outcome)
  • Offer outside rehab treatment resources , such as Renascent’s Workplace Solutions Complete Care Program

Alcohol and drug addiction treatment offers the opportunity for the employer to reclaim a valuable, grateful and newly-motivated employee. Should the employee refuse treatment, the employer will have fulfilled its obligation in support of dismissal for cause.

Other factors that should influence the decision to terminate include the existence of a clear drug and alcohol policy and how well supervisors have been trained in its terms and conditions. Renascent’s Workplace Solutions offers employers help with implementing an appropriate drug and alcohol policy as well as corporate training programs on addiction in the workplace.

As a supervisor, what do I need to know about mandatory treatment?

Mandatory rehab treatment comes from a violation of a company drug and alcohol policy or an incident that puts the employee, coworkers and/or the public at risk. This is most common in safety-sensitive environments. The employer cannot condone the behaviour, but there is a duty to accommodate the employee’s disability. The employee must comply with drug or alcohol treatment requirements or will be subject to termination.

The employer needs to determine what duty to accommodate may exist and to what extent. You must always have your eye on the objective: what is our duty to accommodate and what are the next steps? Renascent’s Workplace Solutions can provide an assessment and a treatment plan if deemed appropriate.

Can employers ask employees whether they have an addiction problem?

There is no simple answer, as it depends on individual circumstances. While some employers balk at asking questions like these, many employment lawyers would say that you can ask if you have sufficient reasons or probable cause. To help determine this, call Renascent’s Workplace Solutions for a free, confidential consultation.

Why is abstinence-based treatment important to employers?

Employers need to dictate the terms for continued employment as they are responsible for workplace safety and financial performance. Employers can and should specify abstinence-based addiction treatment as a requirement for continued employment if the employee has been assessed as having an addiction problem.

Given a choice to reduce drinking or eliminate it, it’s not surprising the addict will choose moderation. The problem is that addicted people can’t moderate: one is too many and a thousand isn’t enough. For addicts, abstinence is the safest course and most honest treatment goal. Renascent’s independent outcome studies prove that abstinence is possible for the majority of clients.

What should I do if an employee denies a problem?

You may think the employee will deny having an alcohol or drug abuse problem, but you won’t know until you ask. Speak to someone in your Human Resources department first to ensure you’re complying with company policy

A quiet, private spot is best. The reason for the meeting need not be disclosed at this point. Relay what you see (they’re often late or absent, tired, producing sloppy work, or you’ve heard them slurring or seen them with bloodshot eyes) and ask if there is anything you should know.

If there is an admission, call your EAP or Renascent for guidance and help for the employee. If the problem is denied, review the behaviours you’ve seen and explain that it concerns you both as their supervisor and on a human level. Make sure to document the meeting.

If the denial persists along with the behaviours or if the behaviours worsen, as they inevitably do as the disease progresses, call Renascent’s Workplace Solutions for a consultation.

Are there any shortcuts to documenting employees with substance abuse problems?

No. Behaviour at the best of times is complex. Substance abuse has social, economic and legal implications and the matter deserves the utmost time and attention. It is critical to observe behaviour. Recording what you see and hear is necessary when a pattern of deteriorating performance emerges.

Well-substantiated documentation will provide objective information to set the stage for possible corrective action. It will also help the employer or supervisor to avoid becoming personally involved in the employee’s problems. The documented behaviour must be observable and verifiable. It is also very important to follow your company’s specific guidelines for documenting employee performance to ensure you are in compliance with company policies and privacy legislation.

How can I make an addicted employee go for help?

While you may feel that your employee needs help with addiction problems, they either have to voluntarily indicate they want help or there must be a lever such as documentation of declining job performance or some critical incident which results in personal injury or damage to production. This is the reason why employers need a comprehensive and clearly communicated drug and alcohol policy that takes into consideration the legal and medical implications of drug testing and whether an employee is in a safety-sensitive job.

What should I do when an employee who’s been to addiction treatment relapses?

Every situation is different, but relapse is not uncommon in early sobriety. Renascent Complete Care includes a 15-week structured relapse prevention program, family support and lifelong support for the employee. Participation in 12-step meetings is another very effective way to protect against relapse. Make sure your employee is aware of the consequences as outlined in your company’s drug and alcohol policy, if relapse reoccurs. And make sure you follow through with consequences, while offering support.

Are employers responsible for employees who cause car accidents after drinking too much at office parties?

In the decision of Hunt v. Sutton Group Realty Inc., the trial judge found an employer liable for 25% of the damages suffered by an intoxicated employee who was seriously injured in a car accident following the office’s holiday party. While the decision was subsequently overturned on procedural errors, the finding with respect to an employer’s liability remains intact.

However, the Supreme Court of Canada in Childs v. Desormeaux held that, as a general rule, private hosts don’t have a duty of care to a person injured by a guest who consumed alcohol at their party or public users of highways. The Court did, however, leave open the possibility that there could be a finding of liability if the host’s conduct implicates him or her in the creation or exacerbation of the risk. In particular, the Court noted this could apply to a host who continues to serve alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person while knowing he or she will be driving home.

Download Renascent’s Workplace Solutions eBrochure here.

If you suspect an employee has an addiction problem, Renascent is here to help. Call Tania Archer at 647-258-5960 and start getting the answers you need now.