Taking the 'high' road

Alberta Court of Appeal clarifies enforcement of workplace drug and alcohol policies
By Stephen Shore and Iouri Vorobiev
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 07/06/2016

Workplace drug and alcohol policies often tread tricky ground. Employers obviously want to eliminate drugs and alcohol from the workplace and the risks potentially intoxicated employees could cause — but it’s not always as simple as getting rid of employees caught with or intoxicated from those substances. In many cases, an employee may be in possession of or intoxicated by drugs or alcohol because of an addiction that qualifies as a disability that must be accommodated. However, a well-written and thoughtful policy can help an employer effectively deal with the problem of drugs or alcohol in the workplace — and accommodation isn’t always required, even if an employee claims a dependency.

There is no doubt about it. Addiction to drugs and alcohol is a recognized disability and an employer has a duty to accommodate an employee who has such a disability.

This raises complex issues for an employer that has found an employee impaired or using drugs or alcohol in a way that negatively impacts the workplace. A common issue faced by employers is an employee who claims the protection of an addiction-based disability only after discipline (or termination) is meted out for breach of the employer's drug and alcohol policy.