Drug-stealing nurse reinstated by arbitrator

Nurse diagnosed with opioid substance abuse disorder, which is known to impair judgment; Employer didn’t investigate accommodation before dismissal for cause
By Jeffrey R. Smith
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 03/20/2019

Employees with addictions can present quite a conundrum for employers – especially employers whose workplaces required a high standard of trust and skill, such as a medical care facility. Employee theft is considered a serious form of misconduct that can often provide just cause for dismissal. But if an employee’s theft – or any other misconduct – might be related to the employee’s addiction, then the employer’s duty to accommodate kicks in before just cause does – even if the employee is a nurse who breached her duties caring for patients.

An Ontario long-term care facility has been ordered by an arbitrator to reinstate and accommodate a registered nurse with an opioid addiction who stole narcotics and falsified records to cover up her theft.

The 50-year-old worker was employed as a registered nurse (RN) at the Sunnyside Home Long Term Care Facility, a long-term care home in Waterloo, Ont., operated by the Regional Municipality of Waterloo. Hired in December 2002 on a part-time basis and moving to full-time in 2004, she was stationed in a particular building at the facility that housed 263 residents, in a unit with 54 total beds. The worker was trained to care for any of the patients in the unit and in 2012 was promoted to team leader, a position that involved co-ordinating resident care, administering medication, and ensuring correct procedures for handling and control of medication.