October 03, 2012

Identifying behaviours as addictions and providing accommodation to employees with addictions can be difficult. While drug, alcohol and even gambling addiction are widely recognized disorders, significant uncertainty exists as to whether compulsive behaviours, such as excessive playing of videogames or use of the internet, constitute bona fide mental disorders. If they are mental disorders, does that mean they are automatically disabilities that must be accommodated in the workplace? If a duty to accommodate exists, how far does that duty go? In this session experts will address addictions from both a psychological and legal perspective, explaining the nature of addiction and discussing appropriate, legally-compliant accommodation.

    • Understanding Addiction: How do psychologists and psychiatrists define addiction? How common is addiction? Are addictions, such as sex addiction and videogame addiction, real mental illnesses? What are the warning signs that an activity like gambling or drinking is becoming an addiction? What types of behaviours might an employee with an addiction manifest in the workplace? How should managers, co-workers or union representatives approach someone they believe has an addiction or may be developing an addiction? How can employers and unions address the stigma that attaches to addiction? From a legal standpoint, are all addictions disabilities that trigger the duty to accommodate under human rights legislation? When an employer disciplines an employee for drug or alcohol use, is it legally relevant whether the employee is an addict or a casual user?
    • Medical/psychological evidence: What medical psychological information is necessary to establish that an employee has an addiction? Is evidence from a specialist necessary? What kind of specialist is qualified to diagnose an addiction? Should workplace parties place greater weight on the evidence of psychiatrists than on the evidence of psychologists? Is information from a psychologist or psychiatrist treating an employee acceptable? Or should an employer request an independent medical exam? Is an employee entitled to accommodation if he or she discloses a disability only after discipline has been imposed? Should arbitrators readily accept post-discharge evidence of addiction, given that a reluctance to admit to a problem is an aspect of the disability? Should they accept post-discharge evidence of successful rehabilitation?
    • Accommodation, last chances and undue hardship: What types of accommodations must employers often provide to employees with an addiction? Must an employer accept absenteeism attributable to an employee’s addiction? Can an employer legally discipline an employee with a gambling addiction for accessing gambling sites on the internet at work? Is such conduct rendered non-culpable because of the employee’s addiction? Must employers tolerate workplace theft that is causally linked to an employee’s addiction? (How is such a causal connection established?) Is it discriminatory to require an employee living with or recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction to submit to random drug or alcohol tests? Can an employer impose special medical reporting conditions on employees recovering from other types of addictions? For example, can an employer require evidence that an employee is continuing with treatment? Must employers accommodate relapses? If so, how many? In what circumstances is a last-chance agreement a form of accommodation? When are last-chance agreements discriminatory? Can last-chance agreements be used to establish that the employer has reached the point of undue hardship?