1. Introduction and Purpose

The University of Waterloo (the “University”) is accountable to create a safe environment for employees, students and members of the public. This duty includes ensuring there is no use of illegal substances in the workplace or misuse of drugs or alcohol before or during work hours that may impair an employee’s ability to perform their work functions responsibly. To that end, this guideline sets out the University’s expectation that all employees report fit for work, and summarizes the University’s commitment to assist and accommodate employees who seek supportive rehabilitation for substance abuse.

2. Legal Framework

In addition to applicable University policies, this guideline will be interpreted in accordance with applicable law, in particular:

  • Criminal Code R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46
  • Occupational Health and Safety Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. O.1
  • Employment Standards Act, 2000, S.O. 2000, c. 41;
  • Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. F.31;
  • Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19;

3. Principles

The following principles underpin this policy:

3.1 The health and safety of individuals is of the utmost concern in every area of University operations.

For all individuals, the University encourages early treatment and support.


The University will comply, and expects its employees to comply with applicable legislation surrounding the use of legal and illegal substances.


University employees are expected to take responsibility for their own safety and actions, and the impact of those actions on others.


The possession, use, distribution and sale of illicit drugs or alcohol and drug paraphernalia on University property is prohibited.


As a condition of continued employment, treatment for alcohol and drug problems with substance dependency that contribute to poor work performance is mandatory for all employees.


All employees will have access to information and education about the dangers of alcohol and drug use and abuse and the influence that such use and abuse has on job performance and health and safety through the University’s Employee & Family Assistance Plan (EFAP);


The University will support employees who have a dependency on alcohol or drugs by providing appropriate access to programs, services, benefits (where applicable), or work accommodation to assist with their dependency;


Supervisors need to recognize situations where an employee appears to be under the influence of a substance or who may have an alcohol or drug dependency and need to take all appropriate actions.

3.10 Under associated policies, employment contracts and collective agreements, violations of this guideline by an employee, contractor or volunteer may be grounds for disciplinary action up to and including termination, unless there are mitigating circumstances that may reduce the degree of discipline. Any infringement of this guideline by a contractor will be considered a breach of the contract. This may result in penalties, suspension or expulsion of the individual involved, or termination of the contract.

4. Role and Responsibilities

4.1 University

4.1.1 The University shall assist and accommodate employees who voluntarily disclose a substance dependence.

Assistance and accommodation shall be coordinated by Occupational Health and Human Resources.

4.2 Managers/Supervisors


Managers and supervisors are to promptly identify and document any incidence of suspected impairment or situation where there are concerns about an individual’s ability to perform his or her job safely.  Managers and Supervisors should reach out to their HR Partner for advice and guidance on handling the situation. When an employee comes forward and identifies that they have a substance abuse problem or requests assistance in this regard, the Manager/Supervisor will provide the employee with contact information for the EFAP and Occupational Health, and/or encourage the employee to seek professional care through their family physician.


Supervisors will offer assistance and support for rehabilitation and the follow-up program when an employee returns from an alcohol or drug treatment program. This should be documented with Occupational Health.


An employee who seeks assistance will not experience punishment or retribution as a direct result of seeking assistance. This is not intended to limit the supervisor’s discretion to implement discipline in situations where it is deemed warranted (i.e. for something other than the request for assistance itself).

4.3 Employees


All individuals working at the University are expected to report fit for duty for scheduled and unscheduled work and be able to perform assigned duties safely and acceptably without any limitations due to use or after-effects of alcohol, illicit drugs, non-prescription drugs, prescribed medications, or any other substance that may impair judgment or performance.

4.3.2 Employees shall manage potential impairment due to the legitimate use of medications during working hours by contacting their family physician to determine if the medication can have a negative effect on performance. If any concerns arise, they are required to report any limitations or restrictions to Occupational Health or their Manager/Supervisor to determine whether modification of duties or temporary assignment is required.

Employees shall advise their supervisors whenever they witness concerns about a co-worker’s fitness for work.


Employees needing rehabilitation for substance abuse are responsible for seeking professional care and support through the EFAP, Occupational Health, and/or through their personal health care professional.


Prior to returning to work, employees must be assessed and cleared by a medical professional as fit to return with either full or modified duties as appropriate.


Employees are expected to report to their manager any impaired driving charge or conviction if expected to operate a vehicle within three working days of receiving the charge or immediately if one’s driver’s license is suspended.

5. Procedures

5.1. Suspicion an Employee is Impaired At Work


Where an employee exhibits signs of impairment, the Manager or Supervisor will contact their HR Partner to determine the appropriate course of action. When there are signs that the employee may be unfit to work, which could include physical appearance, erratic or atypical behaviour, the smell associated with the use of alcohol or drugs, or reliable information that the employee may be at work under the influence of an intoxicant, the employee will not be permitted to work.  After consultation with their HR Partner the employee will be asked to leave the workplace.


The employee’s supervisor will ensure that the employee leaves the workplace and has a safe method of transportation. The employee will not be allowed to drive himself/herself home.


The incident shall be reported to the appropriate Department Head, Dean or Director, and at the request of the employee, the employee’s union or association representative will be informed of the situation.


There will be a full investigation, with involvement of their HR Partner. As a result of the investigation, a decision will be made regarding appropriate consequences, including disciplinary measures up to termination of employment.


Human Resources will advise an affected employee in writing when continuation of employment is dependent on the successful completion of the treatment and any other applicable conditions. The employee's union, association (upon request of employee), Human Resources, and Occupational Health should receive copies of the letter. The employee is responsible for undertaking the prescribed action including treatment, to restore satisfactory work performance.


The University may require the employee to be assessed by an appropriate qualified professional if unsatisfactory work performance, unusual behaviour or abuse of alcohol or other drugs continues. Resources during this process are HR Partners and Occupational Health.


Employees who refuse to co-operate in rehabilitation and/or who continue to present as safety risks to themselves and others shall be subject to progressive discipline in accordance with established procedures. 


Throughout the above processes, the Employee will be offered the support of his/her association or union representative.

5.2 Negative Change in Work Performance


A Manager/Supervisor who suspects a substance is negatively impacting work performance will conduct an interview with the employee to outline the performance problem (i.e. deteriorated performance and behaviour that has been documented).


The Manager/Supervisor will advise the employee confidentially that assistance is available through the EFAP to assist with resolving problems affecting job performance.


If job performance and behaviour improve, no other action is required. If not, the University will take appropriate action, which may include disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.

6. Privacy and Confidentiality


The University is required to comply with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). This provincial legislation governs the use and disclosure of personal information such as an individual’s health and health care history, including information about a physical or mental disability. Health care practitioners, including those employed by the University, must also comply with the Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA), which sets out rules for the collection, use and disclosure of personal health information. These rules apply to all health information custodians operating within the province of Ontario and to individuals and organizations that receive personal health information from health information custodians.


No specific health information will be released to an employee’s manager/supervisor. When an employee is “fit for duty” the manager/supervisor will be advised only of limitations/restrictions. Information about individuals who attend counseling or provide health information is not shared with anyone without the individual’s informed, voluntary and written consent, with the exceptions listed below, as required by law:


There are times when information must be provided to others without consent. These include where an individual poses a threat of serious injury to themselves or others, suspicion of child abuse. Responsible persons will make a reasonable effort to advise the individual in these cases.


All discussions regarding assistance to employees will be confidential and respectful.

Appendix A

"Fit for work" mean an employee is able to perform the duties of the job in a safe, effective and predictable manner. Fitness can be affected by intoxicants such as alcohol and drugs (recreational, illicit, prescription, or over-the-counter). It is important to note that some intoxicants have a lingering effect, so that fitness for work may be questionable for a period of time after use.

Alcohol: Any beverage which contains ethyl alcohol, including but not limited to, beer, wine, liqueurs, and spirits. Very low alcohol products (e.g. beer with 0.5% alcohol by volume) are included in this definition (Ministry of Health).

Illicit Drugs: Any and all controlled substances which cannot be legally possessed under Canadian law.” For example, such “illicit drugs” include but are not limited to cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, stimulants, and other controlled drugs obtained without a physician's prescription (Ministry of Health) and as contained in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.