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Recognizing and Responding to Workplace Impairment

When workers are impaired on the job, whether by fatigue, the use of drugs or the consumption of alcohol, there can be serious consequences. Specifically, impairment of any kind can directly affect one’s ability to perform their duties in a safe manner.

As an employer, it’s your utmost responsibility to maintain a safe workplace. As such, it’s important to know how to identify and respond to workplace impairment. The following are some common signs, symptoms and behaviours to look out for:

  • Personality changes or erratic behaviour
  • A noticeable decline in appearance or personal hygiene
  • Poor performance or changes in work quality
  • Poor balance and unsteady walking
  • Consistent lateness, absenteeism or reduced productivity

When it comes to responding to impairment incidents, it’s critical to remember the scope of an employer’s obligations. It’s not an employer’s job to diagnose an employee’s dependency problem. However, employers can observe changes in attendance, performance and behaviour, and respond accordingly. Employers need to act in non-judgmental ways, provide support and practise empathy. Be sure to focus on solutions and, if disciplinary action is necessary, follow through.

Following any incident, employers and supervisors should file an incident report. In general, these reports outline the incident, identify the employee’s actions, detail what was discussed, list who was notified of the incident, note what actions were taken and recommend follow-up steps.

If you are considering building a policy around workplace substance testing, it is recommended that you seek legal counsel. If handled improperly, substance testing can infringe on employee rights and lead to serious issues and even legal recourse.

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