Ridout Barron


Can employers fire employees for alcohol or drug addiction?

Employers may get frustrated when they learn an employee has an alcohol or drug addiction that adversely affects their work. But Alberta’s human rights legislation prevents employers from just firing the employee.

An employee who has an actual dependency on alcohol or drugs has a disability under Alberta human rights law. Recreational users don’t have this disability. The employer should have the employee assessed right away to see if they are genuinely disabled. If so, the employer must make reasonable accommodations for the employee. The employer doesn’t have to do this only if doing so:

  • would cause it ‘undue hardship’ or
  • if the employee cannot meet a ‘bona fide occupational requirement’ of the job.

The employer should consult the employee’s doctor and addictions counsellor about possible job accommodations, along with a lawyer knowledgeable about employment and human rights law. The changes to the employee’s duties must meet their individual needs.

If the employee’s performance remains poor, the employer still cannot just fire the employee. The employer must thoroughly investigate the situation before acting. If an employer fires the employee after an incomplete investigation, the employee could bring a wrongful dismissal action.

The employee could also make a human rights complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal. If the Tribunal upholds the complaint, it could

  • order the employer to rehire the employee, or
  • order the employer to do whatever it decides must be done to compensate the employee for the employer’s discriminatory act

Employers must act carefully when dealing with an employee suffering from an alcohol or drug addiction disability. Hasty actions will hurt both the employee and the employer in the long run. An experienced employment lawyer can help an employer to deal with accommodating employee disabilities.

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Ridout Barron
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