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Workplace Health and Alcohol and Other Drugs

Did you know? Alcohol and other drug use can significantly impact employee health, workplace and public safety, and operational productivity. For each employee who consumes excessive alcohol, employers pay an extra $597 per year (IAPA, 2008).

It has been estimated that each year in Canada, lost productivity costs due to substance use are approximately $15.7 billion with the majority of the costs coming from alcohol and tobacco use ($5.9 billion and $5.8 billion, respectively) (Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, 2018)

Impact on the workplace

Research has linked alcohol and substance misuse with a long list of problems including:

  • Tardiness
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Poor decision-making
  • Unsafe work practices
  • Decreased productivity and human potential
  • Conflicts among employees
  • Low morale
  • Increased number of preventable injuries
  • Increased workers compensation, sick benefits, and insurance claims
  • Higher staff turnover
  • Reduced quality of products and services
  • Increased incidence of theft and trafficking
  • Increased corporate liability regarding employee and public safety

(Butler, 2012)

Organizational liability associated with the prevention of workplace incidents related to alcohol/substance misuse has also become an increasing concern.

Workplaces can have a significant impact on the health and safety of their organization by introducing policies that prevent and reduce employee alcohol and drug problems. Both the health of the employees and the liability of the employer are paramount.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission “encourages employers to adopt programs and policies that focus on identifying impairment and safety risks, and that areremedial, not punitive. An employer should consider adopting comprehensive workplace health policies that may include employee assistance programs, drug education and health promotion programs, off-site counselling and referral services and peer or supervisor monitoring” (Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2009(PDF 127 KB).

Making Positive Changes

Environmental Support

  • Promote awareness of the risks associated with alcohol / drug use
  • Provide skill building to help reduce employee risks with alcohol/drug use
  • Encourage a work environment where alcohol is de-normalized
  • Provide a supportive and safe work environment by reducing/preventing potential harms associated with workplace alcohol/drug misuse
  • Create substance misuse policies (PDF 480 KB) to prevent and reduce employee alcohol and drug issues

Key Cornerstone Policy Components

  • Awareness and education programs, both at “roll out” and ongoing
  • Access to assistance, through a contracted EAP (employee assistance program), or as appropriate, community resources
  • Training for supervisors on their role under the policy, including both performance management for early identification of potential problems, and appropriate steps to take to investigate a possible policy violation
  • A variety of tools toinvestigate if someone may be in violationof the policy

(Butler, 2012)

For more information and policy guidance:

Check out the Alcohol Policy Network’s Guide “Let’s Take Action on Alcohol Problems in the Workplace” at www.apolnet.ca/resources/pubs/LTA-Workplace.pdf or their website at www.apolnet.ca/thelaw/policies/ap_wkplace.html for examples of workplace policies.

Additional Resources:

Date of creation: August 22, 2013
Last modified on: July 20, 2018


1Butler, B. (2012). “Developing and Implementing Workplace Alcohol and Drug Policies”. Barbara Butler and Associates Inc. Toronto, Canada.
2Canadian Human Rights Commission (2009). “Canadian Human Rights Commission Policy on Alcohol and Drug Testing.” Ottawa, Canada.
3IAPA. (2008). “It’s about Making a Difference, The Business Case for a Healthy Workplace”.
44Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms Scientific Working Group. (2018). “Canadian substance use costs and harms (2007–2014)”. Prepared by the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.