The information contained in this summary is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such.
Impairment at work can be the result of various situations, including the use of alcohol or drugs. This summary focuses primarily on impairment that is due to the use of drugs (legal or illegal) or alcohol. The Canadian Human Rights Commission includes the following as possible characteristics of workplace impairment:
- personality changes or erratic behaviour (e.g., increased interpersonal conflicts, overreaction to criticism)
- appearance of impairment at work (e.g., odour of alcohol or drugs, glassy or red eyes, unsteady gait, slurring, poor co-ordination)
- consistent lateness, absenteeism or reduced productivity or quality of work.
Causes of impairment can also include fatigue, medical conditions, some prescription medications and unresolved conflict (personal or work-related). Displaying some or all of the signs of impairment does not necessarily indicate substance use or substance abuse. Employers and supervisors should not make assumptions about causes of impairment, and should talk to workers they believe may be impaired to investigate the situation further. It is appropriate to ask the worker what is going on. However, please note that employers do not have the right to ask for or access workers' personal health information.
If a person is impaired at work, it can negatively impact their safety and the safety of others in the workplace. Employers have a responsibility to ensure a safe workplace, as set out by Part 4 of The Workplace Safety and Health Act in Manitoba. Specifically, under Part 2.19 (1)(2) of the Workplace Safety and Health Regulation for Alcohol and Drug Consumpion, an employer must take all reasonable steps to ensure that a worker does not work while under the influence of alcohol or a drug that impairs or could impair the worker's ability to perform work safely. A worker must not work while under the influence of alcohol or a drug that impairs or could impair the worker's ability to perform work safely.
Developing and following a policy to address workplace impairment will demonstrate due diligence on the part of the employer. Employers should:
Have an up-to-date drug and alcohol policy ― seek legal counsel
- Employers can address workplace impairment by having an up-to-date drug and alcohol policy. Employers should seek legal counsel when developing a policy, to ensure that the policy meets the unique needs of their workplace. For more information on developing a policy, visit Workplace Strategies: Risk of Impairment from Cannabis from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. (This document addresses impairment using cannabis as an example.)
Accommodate workers on medical treatments or experiencing addiction
- Workers do not have the right to come to work impaired. However, if the worker has an addiction or a disabling medical condition that requires them to use an impairing drug, the employer must accommodate that worker up to the point of undue hardship. Accommodation for disabilities up to the point of undue hardship on the employer is required by Manitoba's Human Rights Code. Visit The Manitoba Human Rights Commission website to learn more about what's required of employers related to reasonable accommodation in the workplace.
Seek legal counsel if you are considering drug testing
- The law on drug and alcohol testing is complex and evolving, with different legal tests applying to different types of drug and alcohol testing. When an employer is creating a drug and alcohol policy, and/or is considering drug and alcohol testing, they should seek legal counsel.
- The Manitoba Human Rights Commission notes that "unreasonable testing or automatic or severe discipline or other job-related consequences for positive test results discriminates against certain employees in a manner prohibited by The Human Rights Code." For more information on The Human Rights Code with respect to drug and alcohol testing in the workplace, visit The Manitoba Human Rights Commission's guide for employers on drug and alcohol testing in the workplace.
Workers are required to understand and follow their workplace's drug and alcohol policy, and to take responsibility to ensure their own safety and the safety of others. They should encourage their co-workers to seek help if they believe there is a potential breach of the drug and alcohol policy. If a worker discloses to their employer that they are using an impairing drug as an authorized medical treatment for a disabling medical condition, or if they have an addiction, the employer must take steps to accommodate the worker, with input from the worker's physician or other medical professional, up to the point of undue hardship. Employers should make it clear that there will be no threat of judgement or reprisal if a worker discloses this information.
Check out our e-learning course on Impairment and Cannabis in the Workplace, and scroll below the FAQs for more resources about responding to impairment in the workplace.
These external resources were consulted in the development of this summary:
Problematic Substance Use That Impacts the Workplace. A Step-by-Step Guide & Toolkit to Addressing it in Your Business/Organization, Atlantic Canada Council on Addiction, 2011.
Impaired at Work - A guide to accommodating substance dependence, Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Workplace Strategies: Risk of Impairment from Cannabis, 2nd edition, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, 2018.
CannAmm Occupational Testing Services
Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace, The Manitoba Human Rights Commission.
Reasonable Accommodation in the Workplace, The Manitoba Human Rights Commission.