The relationship between employee alcohol use and work is complex. In Ontario, there are specific legal obligations which apply, and employers must exercise caution. Without a proper understanding of their legal obligations, employers face a minefield which may unwittingly result in unwanted liability.
Employers often adopt zero tolerance policies and assume that doing so will give them the right to immediately fire someone for a breach. These are often used for transgressions that are considered particularly egregious, such as harassment. Although we consistently advise employers to address misconduct such as harassment and make it clear that such behaviour is unacceptable, the reality is that courts will not be bound by zero tolerance policies and will conduct their own assessment of whether summary dismissal is warranted. Saying that “we have a zero tolerance policy” will not be the end of the story.
Anyone involved in human resources may think that if an employee who works in a manufacturing facility surrounded by potential health and safety hazards is found sleeping on the job on more than one occasion, they should be dismissed for cause and disentitled to severance of any kind. That would be a reasonable “gut reaction” to this type of fact situation. In fact, such decisions are routinely upheld by both the courts and labour arbitrators.