Understanding and Accommodating Impairment in the Workplace

Most employers understand that they have a duty to accommodate employees with disabilities. But when the issue centres around impairment or addiction, it can be challenging for the employer to know where to draw the line between helping the employee and undue hardship for the company.

And now that we are over a year into the pandemic and the restrictions that have come along with it, employers need to be especially concerned about mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. These conditions may lead to substance addiction, or they may even cause impairment in themselves.

In this article, we will present an overview about understanding and accommodating impairment in the workplace.

What is impairment and what causes it?

The definition of impairment can include loss of coordination, difficulty focussing, slurred speech, impaired judgement, etc. While we usually think of impairment at work as being the result of the employee having a problem with drugs or alcohol, this is only part of what it encompasses.

It may also be the result of side effects from medication or from an illness; it could be the result of tiredness, stress, anxiety or PTSD. It could be a physical reaction to being exposed to cold or heat for a prolonged period of time. It could even be the result of workplace bullying or sexual harassment.

What does impairment look like?

There are many possible symptoms that an employee is impaired including:

  • Lack of focus or alertness.
  • Erratic behaviour such as increased conflicts with coworkers.
  • Appearance of impairment (eg. Red eyes, odour, slurring words, unsteady).
  • Working in an unsafe manner.
  • Failing a drug or alcohol test.
  • Repeated lateness or absenteeism.

Identifying impairment at a time when many employees are working from home however can be a challenge. It is important for employers to regularly check in with their employees. This not only helps teams stay connected and productive, but it can make it easier for employers to identify when their may be mental health or impairment issues.

How should an employer respond to impairment?

The number one priority for an employer who believes that an employee is impaired should be the safety of that employee. They must assess the duties of that employee and determine whether they have the ability to perform those duties safely. For example, does their job involve driving a vehicle, using machinery, or handling sharp objects?

If the employer determines that an employee cannot perform their current duties safely, they should consider what options for accommodation might be possible. This will have to be done on a case by case basis, but some possible examples include:

  • Modifying the employee’s duties.
  • Modifying the employee’s schedule.
  • Being tolerant of lateness and absenteeism.

Another action that an employer can take is to provide employees the resources they need to begin to address mental health challenges or addictions. This may include access to an Employee Assistance Program or another tool such as the QuikCare Thrive App which provides mental health supports.

What if I am unable to accommodate an impaired employee?

Every effort should be made to accommodate an employee with disabilities – and this includes impairment. That duty however only extends as far as not causing undue hardship to the employer. That being said, there are many nuances to impairment and accommodation, so it is highly recommended that an employer seek the advice of an employment lawyer before denying accommodation.

Implementing an impairment policy

In order to ensure consistency in how your company handles impairment, having an impairment policy in place is essential.

Some of the elements that should be included in this policy include:

  • A statement about the objectives of the policy.
  • Who is included in the policy.
  • A statement about employees’ right to confidentiality.
  • A reporting mechanism so that employees may confidentially report that they are on prescription medicine (or another cause) that may result in impairment.
  • Statement regarding what medical or non-medical substances are allowed on the premises and under what circumstances.
  • What education and training will be undertaken by supervisors to identify impairment and what steps they will take if they suspect impairment.
  • What provisions and accommodations are available for employees who may be impaired or have a substance addictions.
  • Process for return to work.

It should also be noted that it is not the job of an employer to diagnose dependence, but rather to identify if an employee is impaired and take appropriate steps to ensure their safety and when possible, provide accommodation.

Contact TeksMed today!

Do you require assistance with disability management and return to work programs or would you like to learn more about the QuikCare Thrive app? If so, contact TeksMed today to arrange for a consultation.

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