Information For Supervisors Regarding Substance Use

This information applies to all persons appointed at UBC, including staff, student employees, and faculty members, librarians and program directors. Please note that the following is not an exhaustive statement of UBC’s rules and measures related to employee performance and safety.

UBC is committed to fostering a healthy, safe, inclusive, and professional work environment.

UBC employees required to refrain from the use of psychoactive substances during or prior to their work hours, unless lawfully authorized or approved by their supervisor. A “psychoactive substance” is a substance that, when used, affects mental processes (e.g. cognitive functions). Psychoactive substances range from over-the-counter and prescription medicines, to alcohol, cannabis and other drugs.

Substance Use Support Resources for UBC Faculty and Staff

If you would like to know more about help and resources available to UBC staff and faculty, please visit our Substance Use and Addiction Support Resources page.

Job Performance & Workplace Safety

In general, employees are expected to meet job performance norms and standards in their work environment. An employee with performance restrictions is expected to inform their supervisor of these restrictions.

Examples: A dental assistant who has severe difficulty lifting and carrying heavy instrument cassettes is expected to inform their supervisor of these restrictions.

Supervisors should contact Advisory Services (staff and student appointments) or Faculty Relations (faculty appointment) for assistance in addressing (including, where appropriate, accommodating) performance restrictions.

Supervisors are responsible for ensuring that employees under their supervision understand and observe basic safety rules set out in British Columbia’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (sections 4.19 and 4.20), including the following:

1. An employee with a functional impairment that may affect their ability to work safely must inform their supervisor of the functional impairment.

Examples: A faculty member who routinely handles hazardous materials  in a laboratory environment and who has severely diminished hand-grip strength and hand dexterity is expected to inform their department head of these restrictions.

2. An employee must not knowingly do work where their functional impairment may create an undue risk to themselves or others.

Functional impairments may result from various health conditions and environmental and personal factors. For instance, studies have shown that sustained wakefulness (i.e. not sleeping) significantly impairs various functions, such as hand-eye coordination and memory functions. Similarly, acute intoxication due to psychoactive substance use results in functional impairments (e.g. impaired psychomotor functions).

3. An employee must not attend work while their ability to work is affected by substance use so as to endanger the employee or anyone else.

4. An employee must not remain at work if their behaviour is affected by substance use so as to create an undue risk to other employees.

In addition, pursuant to the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation:

1. supervisors must not assign work activities to an employee where the employee’s functional impairment(s) may create an undue risk to the employee or anyone else; and

2. supervisors must not knowingly permit an employee to remain at work while the employee’s ability to work is affected by substance use so as to endanger the employee or anyone else.

Employee Substance Use: Q & A

Question: What should I do if:

  • I suspect that an employee under my supervision is intoxicated due to substance use?
  • An employee under my supervision smells of alcohol or another psychoactive substance?
  • I observe an employee who appears to be using a psychoactive substance at work?

Answer: Follow the “four As” – Assess, Ask, Act, After.

Assess. If the employee is engaging in “At-Risk Behaviour,” follow the procedures under UBC Policy #14 (Response to At-Risk Behaviour). If the employee is not engaging in “At-Risk Behaviour,” take the following steps.

Make sure to record notes of steps taken, your observations, any communication, and the reasoning behind your actions.

Assess. Make sure the employee is safe and does not require medical aid.

Ask. If the employee smells of alcohol or another psychoactive substance, ask them about the cause of the odour.

Ask. Ask the employee if they have used a psychoactive substance (e.g. alcohol, cannabis) during or prior to their work hours, and, if so, why.

Ask. Ask the employee if they are intoxicated due to substance use, and observe any symptoms of intoxication and/or resulting functional impairments.

Symptoms of intoxication and/or resulting functional impairments may vary, depending on the psychoactive substance used and other factors. Symptoms may include:

  • smell of alcohol or other psychoactive substance (e.g. cannabis)
  • impaired hand-eye coordination
  • difficulties with walking, posture
  • difficulties speaking (e.g. loudness; slurred speech; too fast; too slow)
  • reduced alertness
  • relatively slow or shallow breathing
  • sleepiness
  • eye redness

Act. Take action that is appropriate under the circumstances:

  • Impairment. The employee cannot remain at work.
If you reasonably believe that the employee’s ability to work is affected by substance use so as to endanger the employee or someone else, inform the employee that they cannot remain at work, and take reasonable steps to ensure that the employee proceeds home or to the care of a responsible person (e.g. family) safely.
  • Authorized use. Under certain circumstances, you may allow the employee to remain at work.
If the employee has engaged in authorized or approved substance use during or prior to their work hours, and you do not believe that the employee’s ability to work is affected by substance use, you may allow the employee to return to their regular duties – unless the employee smells of alcohol or another psychoactive substance, and the odour associated with the employee is so strong or objectionable as to be unavoidably disruptive. In this case, you should take reasonable steps to ensure that the employee proceeds home or to the care of a responsible person (e.g. family) safely. If the employee is allowed to remain at work, take reasonable steps to monitor the employee’s performance and behaviour for the remainder of their workday.
  • Unauthorized use. The employee cannot remain at work.
There may be instances where the employee has engaged in unauthorized/unapproved substance use during or prior to their work hours, but you do not believe that the employee’s ability to work is affected by substance use. In these instances, you should inform the employee that they cannot remain at work, because UBC employees required to refrain from the use of psychoactive substances during or prior to their work hours. Take reasonable steps to ensure that the employee proceeds home or to the care of a responsible person (e.g. family) safely.

After. After resolving the immediate situation, contact Advisory Services (staff and student appointments) or Faculty Relations (faculty appointment) as soon as possible.