Employee with a drug habit

One of our workers is a self-admitted cocaine addict. The cost of treating this addiction will be expensive — does the employer have an obligation to pay for it?

Question: One of our workers is a self-admitted cocaine addict. He has taken medical leave on two occasions and twice we have implemented return-to-work programs for him. About two months ago we suspected a relapse and when we approached him, he admitted he had started taking cocaine again and hadn’t actually sought out the treatment we thought he had.

We want to help now, but the cost of an intensive treatment program is high — about $15,000. Are we obligated to fund all or part of this treatment program? Or is our duty to accommodate met by holding her job open and reintegrating her back into the workplace when she’s better? We’re a non-profit organization that relies on government funding so money is an issue.

Answer: Employers are responsible for accommodating employees and assisting them with treatment up to the point of undue hardship in a manner which most respects their dignity.

In determining whether there is undue hardship, the Ontario Human Rights Code allows an employer to consider cost, outside sources of funding and health and safety requirements, if any, in its assessment of whether an accommodation would cause undue hardship. These are the only considerations under Ontario law.

In light of the fact you are a non-profit organization funded solely by the government, it may be that the cost of the treatment program will cause your organization undue hardship.

You have already accommodated her by holding her job open and beginning to re-integrate her back into the workplace. If it can be argued that the $10,000 or $15,000 cost will cause the organization undue hardship, it is likely there is no need to fund all of her treatment program. If it is something which the organization can afford, a simple solution may entail splitting the cost with the worker in an effort to continue to be of support and assistance.

Natalie MacDonald is a partner with Grosman, Grosman & Gale, a Toronto-based law firm specializing in employment law. She can be reached at (416) 364-9599 or nmacdonald@grosman.com.

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