line along with recent disclosures by our
politicians made me sit back and wonder:
how would these revelations be dealt with
if similar disclosures were made by a senior
executive in the workplace?
Rarely do employees stand in front of a
mob of reporters and admit to drug use.
If an employee decided to announce that
he was either under the influence of a drug
or alcohol at work, it would not likely take
you long to suspend that employee immediately
from work and conduct an internal
investigation. Your finding of guilt
might lead you to terminate that employee
with or without pay in order to get rid of
that problem. You might decide to impose
some terms in a last-chance agreement and
accommodate the employee’s disability.
But what do you about an employee
who, on his own time, is engaged in drug
use or abuses alcohol? Is there anything
that you can do? Does it have to impact his
or her work performance? Does the duty
to accommodate an employee’s disability
always kick into play each time? In the absence
of a direct admission, or catching an
employee in possession or under the influence
of drugs or alcohol, what you can do
becomes much more complicated.
Here are some suggestions:
Depending on the nature of your workplace,
drug and alcohol abuse can be more
prevalent. However, there is no magic line
that can be drawn between blue-collar and
white-collar employees. Traders making
over a million dollars a year can have as
bad (or worse) of a cocaine problem than a
plant worker who makes $60,000 per year.
A member of the clergy can be a terrible
alcoholic and could cause significant harm
to a workplace in the same way as a shift
supervisor. A police officer can be a drug
addict. Although most large companies
now have Employee Assistance Programs
(EAPs) that provide confidential counseling
and medical support for employees
who need help, that may or may not be
enough. These days, you may need to take
one step further and talk about the issue
in the workplace with your employees and
identify the safety issues, the performance
issues, the risk of job loss and the health
issues. Whether your employees are addicts
or users, there is an impact on your
OUTSIDE ACTIVITY MAY
The days of defining what constitutes the
“workplace” is not as easy as it once was.
Many employees travel for work with colleagues
or customers. They are expected to
avoid engaging in improper behaviour, but
supervision is difficult, if not impossible.
Alcohol or drug use outside the workplace
can have an impact on how an employee
will conduct himself in the workplace with
peers, and it may also disclose a potential
risk for an employer. It may also be a signal
to the employer that intervention is necessary.
Outside conduct may be relevant,
depending on the nature of the employee’s
job, the industry and the risks on the company’s
NOT EVERY CASE IS
Some would dispute this claim. Drug and
alcohol users could fall into two categories:
some who abuse and some who are addicted.
For the former, they will never admit
that they have an addiction issue and they
will never agree to treatment. In these circumstances,
accommodation is not likely
necessary as the employee will not accept
or assert that they suffer a disability. In the
latter, the addict may request or require
accommodation as the person does suffer
from a recognized disability. The task
to reach the appropriate level of accommodation
is a challenge in most cases. It
involves candour, disclosure, trust and patience.
The results can often go either way.
Employees can recover from serious drug
or alcohol addiction. Some take a leave of
absence, successfully recover by attending
a treatment program and are able to return
to work. These arrangements can also fail.
Each case needs to be approached with
sensitivity and particular attention to the
unique facts of the case at hand.
HAVE A POLICY
Most prudent employers have a drug and
alcohol policy in the workplace. The policy
should be broad enough to cover the impact
on performance, not just reference
being directly in possession or under the
influence while at work. It should provide
what steps the company will take to assist
an employee who is suffering from a drug
or alcohol dependency. The policy should
be posted and communicated on a regular
basis to employees. Obviously, a key
part of this approach is that the company
management needs to lead by example and
needs to set the appropriate boundaries
around company functions and entertaining.
As an example, having an open bar at a
Christmas party is uncommon these days.
ISSUES ARE PREVALENT
Recognize that some of your employees
are struggling with mental health and emotional
issues, which may be related to or
in combination with alcohol or drug use.
These issues present a tremendous amount
of challenges for the HR professional, and
it cannot just be viewed from the perspective
of a performance issue. In some cases,
it will be appropriate to request a medical
clearance certificate from the employee’s
physician or obtain an independent medical
examination, depending on the circumstances
of the case in question. Some cases
require a more clinical approach as opposed
to the more traditional approach of assuming
that it is purely a performance issue requiring
Malcolm MacKillop is a partner at Shields
O’Donnell MacKillop, a management side employment
and labour law boutique in Toronto.
ALCOHOL OR DRUG USE OUTSIDE THE
WORKPLACE CAN HAVE AN IMPACT ON
HOW AN EMPLOYEE WILL CONDUCT
HIMSELF IN THE WORKPLACE WITH
PEERS, AND IT MAY ALSO DISCLOSE A
POTENTIAL RISK FOR AN EMPLOYER.
Photos by Evgeny Kuklev & Katarzyna Bialasiewicz / Photos.com
22 ❚ FEBRUARY 2014 ❚ HR PROFESSIONAL