Being faced with an employee who has, or is suspected of having a substance abuse problem is one of the most delicate situations that an employer can encounter. Suspicions can arise from the employee’s odd or erratic behavior, a change in the employee’s performance or by the employee’s physical demeanor. However, substance abuse can be difficult to identify unless someone has actually witnessed the employee consuming alcohol or drugs, or if the employee has advised their employer of their illness.
It is important to know that you cannot dismiss an employee for this reason alone. Addiction to drugs or alcohol is considered an illness and is therefore protected by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. The employee therefore has a right to reasonable accommodation. This means that companies must make necessary adjustments so that the employee will be able to continue to perform their tasks and keep their job, so long as the employee’s condition doesn’t create undue hardship for the company.
Here are three common situations and possible solutions:
- The employee’s performance is poor and you believe that substance abuse may be the cause.
Depending on the type of performance or behavioral problem being noted, it generally requires that you treat the employee as you would any other by documenting the work-related issues that arise through progressive disciplinary measures. As part of a regular disciplinary meeting you will ask the employee to explain and if the issue is indeed related to substance abuse, the employee will then have the opportunity to say so at this point. If you have strong reasons to believe that the performance issues are a result of a substance abuse problem you can inform the employee of your Employee Assistance Program, should you have one in place. It is not recommended to accuse the employee of having a drug or alcohol problem and you cannot force the employee to accept assistance.
- The employee appears to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
If the employee exhibits obvious signs of being intoxicated, such as drowsiness, stumbling, inability to focus, or slurred speech, you can ask them how they are feeling or, if the symptoms are severe you should get them immediate medical attention. It is important to remember that other medical conditions can also be responsible for these symptoms such as an allergic reaction, diabetic insulin reaction or a stroke, to name a few.
- The employee advises you that they have a drug or alcohol problem.
If the employee does tell you that they have a substance abuse problem, and submits the
relevant medical evidence that proves it is an addiction, you can decide to hold off on the disciplinary measure until the employee gets the help that they need. You must provide the employee with reasonable accommodation, such as allowing them to take the necessary time off in order for them to participate in a rehabilitation program.
When substance abuse is present in the workplace the company overall suffers the consequences. Not only will there be negative repercussions for the employee in question, but it can also be highly detrimental to the work environment. For example, other employees’ performance may be negatively affected and some may feel that their safety is at risk. As such, it is very important that any performance or behavioral issues be dealt with promptly for the benefit of both employer and employee.
Please note that the information provided in this bulletin consists of general guidelines and that there are many exceptions and special cases that could apply.
Summer 2012 Issue