SUMMARY: Developing and communicating clear policies, and providing education and training for management and staff may help prevent behaviours related to addiction or substance abuse from escalating into a workplace crisis.

Develop a substance-free workplace policy

Some organizations may choose to establish a substance-free workplace committee to help develop and implement the policy. The committee should include representation by employees, occupational health professionals, management and unions where applicable. You may also wish to include representation from your employee assistance plan or benefit providers, as well as community addiction specialists.

The formal policy should clarify expectations as well as consequences of non-compliance with the policy.

  • Definition of substance abuse – Include substance use that is or is not acceptable in the workplace.
  • Purpose and objectives – Provide clear statements about what the purpose of the policy is and what it is attempting to achieve.
  • Who is covered – Include full and part-time staff, students, interns, third parties, volunteers and independent contractors.
  • Business-related events – Define how the policy will apply to work-related social events, off-site events or other non-routine business events.
  • Confidentiality – State how the policy complies with privacy and confidentiality legislation.
  • Behaviours – Describe which behaviours will require a response in the workplace.
  • Prescription drugs – Include a process for informing the organization if an employee is using a prescribed medication that may impair performance. (It is usually not permissible under human rights legislation to demand the name of the medication.)
  • Co-worker concerns – Describe a process for notifying a manager if there is a concern about a co-worker's fitness for duty due to substance abuse related issues.
  • Violations – Include a procedure for reporting violations of the policy.
  • Testing – Describe any conditions under which drug or alcohol testing may be required. Refer to the applicable legislation for your jurisdiction. 
  • Consequences – Articulate disciplinary actions that could happen for both first incident and subsequent incidents.
  • Employee assistance – Describe the availability of employee assistance programs, if available.
  • Policy review – Set up the initial review by legal advisor and senior management, and regular reviews thereafter.
  • Confirm employees know about the policy – Require regular confirmation in writing or by email that each employee has received and read the policy and any amendments to it.
  • Management responsibilities – Define what is expected of managers or others in enforcing the policy, including having regular discussions with their teams. 

A committee action plan should be developed in conjunction with the policy that looks at:

  • Assessment of workplace risks
    • Consider potential safety concerns, and risks to the health of the employee, productivity, performance, reputation, morale and quality of work or service.
    • Consider workplace situations when behaviours related to addiction might be difficult to detect, be potentially hazardous or are more likely to occur due to higher levels of stress, accountability or responsibility.
  • Scope of the policy – Consider the policy scope that will be necessary to manage risks associated with behaviours related to addiction.
  • Goals – Include both organizational and committee goals.
  • Annual review process – Review workplace polices that deal with wellness, addiction, substance abuse and mental health to ensure that they continue to meet objectives.
  • Employee communication – Communicate the policy to all existing employees and add to new employee orientation.
  • Awareness – Provide wellness and addiction awareness workshops internally or with experts, employee assistance plan providers, benefit providers or local addiction agencies.
  • Resources – Provide materials that support employee health, and address addiction-related matters.
  • Healthy activities – Organize walks, relays or golf tournaments and other activities that consider a broad range of employee interests and abilities and are focused on promoting overall health and well-being.
  • Employee feedback – Use regular and confidential surveys to obtain employee opinions and feedback about the current state of wellness within the organization.
  • Inclusive events – Hold workplace social events that are alcohol-free.

Provide training

The focus for managers, supervisors and union representatives should be on addressing workplace behaviours and not on managing addiction.

Training should include an understanding of:

  • Substance-free policy – Both the intent and procedures to be followed.
  • Testing procedures – Details of how or when any drug or alcohol testing procedures are allowed.
  • Consequences for non-compliance – Awareness of what can and cannot be done with respect to the policy or testing procedures.
  • Employee communication – Explain the substance-free policy, including key messages about objectives, and responsibilities.
  • Recognizing symptoms – Awareness of signs of substance abuse and behaviours related to addiction.  See Additional Resources below.
  • Procedures and documentation – Create awareness of what should be done when there are observable workplace signs of substance abuse and behaviours related to addiction.
  • Resources – Help identify appropriate resources to offer employees who need to address addiction.
  • Crisis response training – Appropriate responses to a crisis related to addiction or substance abuse.
  • Stigma reduction – Dispel myths and stereotypes about addiction.

Educate employees

Education for employees should include the following:

  • Stigma reduction – Dispel myths and stereotypes about addiction.
  • Awareness – Share information about the effect of substance abuse on workplace safety, health and performance, professional and personal relationships. How to spot the symptoms of addictive behaviour. See Does Someone I Work With Have a Problem?  provided by the Alberta Health Services.
  • Policy communication – Explain the substance-free policy, including key messages about objectives and responsibilities.
  • Link to wellness – Emphasize how a substance-free workplace supports other health and wellness initiatives.
  • Resources – Provide pamphlets, videos and books on topics like smoking, alcohol abuse, drug use, gambling, and other addictions, as well as links to community resources.
  • Expert speakers – Seek out professional speakers who talk about their first-person experience with addiction. Benefit providers or local addictions agencies may also have or be able to recommend speakers.

See also Addiction Response for workplace strategies to respond situations resulting from employee addictions and substance abuse.

The information on this page is adapted from: You Are The Key: 10 Steps for Employers to a Drug-Free Workplace  courtesy of Sunshine Coast Health Centre.

Please note that the policies and prevention responses are provided as information only about some of the factors related to addiction that may impact mental health. As such, this information does not address or take into account legal requirements that may apply to your organization in this regard and this information should not be relied upon for this purpose.

Additional Resources

The following are links to resources that may be of interest to you. If you click on a link you may be entering a third party website not maintained or controlled in any way by us or our affiliated companies. For more information, see Legal and Copyright.

Alberta Health Service – Information for Workplaces
General information, facts and strategies for addressing alcohol and drug abuse in the workplace.

When an employee has an addiction problem.
Article provides strategies manager's can use to support employees who are experiencing addiction. Article courtesy of Mental Health Works.

Alcoholism in the Workplace – A Handbook for Supervisors
Handbook designed to help foster a better awareness among supervisors, managers and human resource personnel of the issues surrounding alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Information courtesy of Addiction Consulting Services.

It's Our Business - The Basics: Alcohol, Other Drugs and Gambling
[PDF] An overview that looks at the basics and impacts of alcohol, other drugs and gambling in the workplace.