Home|Customized Training|Dealing with Workplace Impairment

Impairment, Drug Testing, Fitness for Work, Safety

Dealing with Workplace Impairment: Balancing safety, accommodation, and employee rights

The impending legalization of recreational cannabis has profound implications for employers and unions seeking to ensure workplace safety while respecting employee privacy. This in-depth training session will teach participants to recognize the signs of impairment and problematic substance use, ensure workplace safety through legally-compliant policies dealing with impairment, and accommodate employees with substance use disorders.

Experts in impairment recognition and addictions will join experienced labour lawyers and arbitrators to teach participants the skills and knowledge necessary to:

  • Adapt workplace policies to address the legalization of recreational cannabis.
  • Spot the signs of impairment.
  • Ensure workplace safety with policies and procedures that prohibit impairment while ensuring employee rights.
  • Identify aspects of "Standardized Field Sobriety Tests" (SFST) and "Drug Recognition Expert" training that may be applicable to the workplace.
  • Recognize the signs that someone in the workplace may have a substance use disorder.
  • Approach employees suspected of having a disorder in a non-threatening way that encourages them to disclose and seek help.
  • Accommodate employees with a substance use disorder while maintaining workplace safety.



E-mail Roshien Asanta or call (416) 977-6618 for more information. We can help to tailor a Customized Training package for you.

Sample Schedule

9:00 a.m. – 9:10 a.m.


The session leader, an experienced labour arbitrator, will review the agenda and goals for the day.

9:10 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.

 PART 1  Workplace Policies and the Legalization of Recreational Cannabis

Management and union lawyers will join the arbitrator leading the session to review the essential elements of a workplace impairment policy and an overview of the framework for the legalization of recreational cannabis, and provide guidance on developing policies to address recreational cannabis use. Specific issues to be addressed include:

  • Is a workplace "impairment policy" preferable to a workplace "drug and alcohol policy?" What would be the difference? Besides drugs, what can cause impairment?
  • What are the appropriate goals of workplace impairment or drug and alcohol use policies? What level of safety is the appropriate goal for a policy? Can employers insist on a policy designed to achieve the highest possible level of safety? Will "zero tolerance" policies be upheld by arbitrators?
  • What are the essential elements of a workplace policy dealing with impairment or drug and alcohol use? How should policies deal with prescription drugs? What about medicinal cannabis?
  • Following the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Elk Valley, which upheld the dismissal of an employee for failing to disclose his drug addiction in advance of a work-related incident, as required by the employer's policy, can workplace policies place the onus on employees to disclose all drug and/or alcohol use?
  • What framework for legal recreational use of cannabis is established by Bills C-45 and C-46? How is Ontario going to regulate recreational cannabis use? Do any laws or regulations specifically address recreational cannabis use and the workplace?
  • How should our experience with impairment due to alcohol influence approaches to impairment due to recreational cannabis use?

10:30 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.


10:45 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

 PART 2  Recognizing Impairment

Management and union lawyers will be joined by an expert who will provide practical insights into recognizing impairment and demonstrate "Standardized Field Sobriety Tests." Specific issues to be addressed include:

  • What is the best way to ensure that workers are not too impaired to do their jobs safely? Is sound supervision, including supervisors trained to recognize impairment, as effective as or more effective than workplace drug testing?
  • What are the legal constraints on workplace drug testing?
  • What are the legal constraints on subjecting employees to other types of supervision or testing designed to detect impairment? For example, can employers require employees to participate in tests similar to those which police may administer on the side of the road to detect impairment?
  • What knowledge and skills do supervisors need to recognize signs of impairment?

12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.


1:00 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.

 PART 3  Recognizing and Understanding Problem Substance Use

An addictions expert will join the legal professionals leading the session to explain substance use disorders, provide practical insight into recognizing workers who may have a problem with substance use, and make suggestions for offering help to such workers. Specific issues to be addressed include:

  • What is the difference between recreational drug or alcohol use and problematic use? Do people become "addicted" to cannabis? Is substance abuse disorder always experienced as a chronic, progressive and/or relapsing disorder?
  • What job performance and workplace behaviours may be warning signs of a potential substance abuse or dependency issue?
  • What is the scope of the employer's legal "duty to inquire" under human rights law? Following the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Elk Valley, is this duty satisfied by having a policy requiring employees to disclose substance use or abuse?
  • Is denial an inherent part of a substance use disorder?
  • What legal and ethical obligations do union representatives have if they become aware that a bargaining unit member may have a substance use disorder?
  • In what circumstances can an employer require an employee to provide medical evidence that he or she is fit for work? What type of evidence can be required?
  • What are some best practices for approaching an employee who exhibits signs of having a substance use disorder?
  • What strategies are effective in combating stigma and encouraging affected employees to seek help?

1:45 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.

 PART 4  Accommodation

With the assistance of an addictions expert, legal professionals will explain the scope of the duty to accommodate an employee with a substance use disorder and provide tips on accommodations that work. Specific issues to be addressed include:

  • In general, what is the scope of the duty to accommodate an employee with a substance use disorder? What about an employee who relies on medical marijuana or prescribed opioids to treat a medical condition?
  • What kinds of accommodations are typically found to be appropriate?
  • How can workplace parties determine whether the point of undue hardship has been reached? Must relapses be accommodated?
  • Can an employer require an employee to engage in treatment for a substance use disorder as part of the accommodation process? Can the employer specify the type of treatment?
  • What can employers and unions do to encourage an employee to get treatment? Should unions and employers rely on "last chance" agreements as a type of "tough love" to force workers into treatment? Must someone reach "rock bottom" before starting on the path to recovery?
  • What are the characteristics of the most effective treatment programs? Are treatments that require abstinence more effective than those that do not? Can people who have been diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder learn to drink in moderation?

2:15 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.


2:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

 PART 4 CONT'D  Accommodation

3:00 p.m. – 3:45 p.m.


In groups, participants will work through a scenario drawn from real life to practice applying the knowledge and skills covered in the session.

Session leaders will provide feedback on attendees' application of both knowledge and skills.

3:45 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

 CONCLUSION  Wrap-up and Q & A

Session leaders will provide a concise review of important concepts and skills covered during the training session and will take questions from participants.

Additional Information

Includes materials, with case summaries and analyses, prepared by Lancaster's legal staff.