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

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The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) states that we often think of impairment as a result of substance use in terms of alcohol or drugs. In fact, there are a variety of situations, including family or health issues, trauma or chronic mental stress, that may impair a person's ability to do their work safely and effectively.

Develop an impairment policy

Some organizations may choose to establish a 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, including:

    • Definition of problematic substance use in the workplace
    • Definition of impairment in the workplace
    • Clear statements about the purpose of the policy and what it is attempting to achieve
    • Define safe and acceptable behaviour
    • Describe signs or symptoms that indicate potential impairment
    • Establish when to intervene if impairment is suspected
    • Guidelines for the discussion with the employee
    • Consistent and professional interactions with employees who are impaired at work
    • Safety procedures related to intervening
    • Safety procedures related to sending an impaired employee home
    • Details about potential disciplinary action
    • Mandatory training requirements for employees and leaders to recognize and report impairment
    • Who is covered, such as full and part-time staff, students, interns, third parties, volunteers and independent contractors
    • Define how the policy will apply to work-related social events, off-site events or other non-routine business events
    • State how the policy complies with privacy legislation
    • Include a process for informing the organization if an employee is receiving medical treatment that may impair performance. (It is usually not permissible under human rights legislation to demand the name of the medication.)
    • Describe a process for employees to report a concern about a co-worker's fitness for duty due to impairment
    • Include a procedure for reporting violations of the policy
    • Describe any conditions under which drug or alcohol testing may be required. Refer to the applicable legislation for your jurisdiction 
    • Disciplinary actions or consequences for both first incident and subsequent incidents
    • Describe the availability of employee assistance programs or other resources if available
    • 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:

  • Setting up the initial review by legal advisors and senior management, and ensuring regular reviews of the policy thereafter.
  • Confirming employees know about the policy through regular confirmation in writing or by email that each employee has received and read the policy and any amendments to it.
  • Considering workplace situations when behaviours related to impairment or problematic substance use might be difficult to detect, be potentially hazardous or are more likely to occur due to higher levels of stress, accountability or responsibility. 
  • Considering hosting wellness, substance use and addiction awareness workshops internally or with experts, employee assistance plan providers, benefit providers or local addiction agencies.
  • Using regular and confidential surveys to obtain employee opinions and feedback about the current state of wellness within the organization.

Provide training

The focus for senior leaders, managers, supervisors, and union representatives should be on addressing workplace behaviours and not on managing problematic substance use or addiction.

Training should include an understanding of:
Impairment-free policy – Both the intent and procedures to be followed.
Testing procedures – Details of how or when any drug or alcohol testing procedures, or other testing for impairment, 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 impairment policy, including key messages about objectives and responsibilities.
Recognizing symptoms – Awareness of signs of impairment or problematic substance use.
Procedures and documentation – Create awareness of what should be done when there are observable workplace signs of impairment, problematic substance use, or behaviours related to addiction.
Resources – Help identify appropriate resources to offer employees who need to address problematic substance use as well as stressors that can cause impairment – family, financial, and education/training, performance demands, etc.
Crisis response training – Appropriate responses to a crisis related to stressors, addiction or problematic substance use.
Stigma reduction – Dispel myths and stereotypes about impairment, whether it's related to stress, mental health issues, problematic substance use or addiction.

See also Impairment Response for workplace strategies for responding to situations resulting from employee impairment.

Educate employees

Education for employees could include the following:
Policy communication – Explain the impairment policy, including key messages about objectives and responsibilities.
Awareness – Share information about how stressors as well as problematic substance use or addiction can cause impairment and  impact  workplace safety, health and performance, professional and personal relationships.
Expert speakers – Seek out professional speakers who talk about their first-person experience with problematic substance use and other addictions. Benefit providers or local addictions agencies may also have or be able to recommend speakers.

This information is adapted from Impairment at Work by the The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety and 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.

Does Someone I Work With Have a Problem?  
Provided by the Alberta Health Services.

When an Employee has a Substance Related ProblemArticle provides strategies managers can use to support employees who are experiencing addiction. Article courtesy of Mental Health Works.

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.