Requirements of Substance Abuse Professional Services

Because the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has clarified that employers have a duty to accommodate someone with an alcohol or drug problem, SAPs have an increasingly important role to play for companies throughout Canada. In fact, the SAP plays a key role in helping an employer determine its accommodation responsibilities in each specific situation when an employee has violated company policy (e.g. tested positive or otherwise violated work rules). The importance of the SAP’s role in making this assessment has been reinforced in Court decisions and arbitration awards.

Qualifications: In terms of professional credentials, Substance Abuse Professionals may be licensed physicians, licensed or certified social workers, licensed or certified psychologists, or an alcohol and drug abuse counselor certified by a nationally or internationally recognized certifying body. But even with these credentials, they need knowledge of and clinical experience in the diagnosis and treatment of alcohol and drug related disorders. They also need to understand their responsibilities as the Company’s representative in dealing with safety situations that may be presented if someone was improperly diagnosed.

Independence: The SAP function is separate and distinct from Employee Assistance services which can cover a broad variety of problems (not just alcohol and drug related) and which are for the most part voluntary and confidential. The SAP does not provide counseling services. The focus of the SAP’s professional evaluation is strictly on whether there is an alcohol or drug dependency and the appropriate treatment and follow-up program, and it results from a mandatory referral consistent with the requirements in the Company policy. The Company, normally through the Program Administrator, must receive certain information so that it can make appropriate decisions regarding the individual’s continued employment and any associated conditions. The SAP is also independent of any treatment program, or the provision of testing services to ensure there is no conflict of interest in their evaluation and recommendations.

Responsibilities: The SAP is responsible for several duties important to the evaluation, referral, and treatment of employees who have violated the company policy by testing positive for a banned substance. SAP referrals are also often triggered for individuals in a performance management situation where an assessment is part of the investigation and follow-up provisions (e.g. admission of a problem).

The following are the key responsibilities:

  • provide a comprehensive face-to-face assessment and clinical evaluation to determine what level of assistance the employee needs in resolving problems associated with alcohol use or prohibited drug use;
  • recommend a course of education and/or treatment with which the Employee must demonstrate successful compliance prior to returning to duty (although in certain situations they may be able to return to duty part way through the treatment or education process);
  • treatment recommendations can include in-patient treatment, partial in-patient treatment, out-patient treatment, education programs, and aftercare;
  • education recommendations can include, but are not limited to bona fide drug and alcohol education courses, self-help groups, and community lectures.
  • serve as a referral source to assist the employee’s entry into an acceptable program of treatment if required;
  • prior to the individual’s return to work for anyone attending treatment, have a face-to-face follow-up evaluation with the employee to determine if the individual has demonstrated successful compliance with recommendations of the initial evaluation to provide the Company with assurance that the individual has made appropriate clinical progress sufficient to return to licensed duty;
  • develop and recommend on an unannounced follow-up testing program; this program may include additional drugs not normally part of the ongoing testing program if it is concluded that other drugs are a factor in the individual’s dependency problem.
  • provide the Program Administrator with recommendations for “aftercare” - continuing education and/or treatment needed after return to licensed duty.

Reporting Requirements: The SAP’s initial assessment report and follow up report and recommendations will be provided to the Company Program Administrator so that it can be ensured that the conditions of the post violation/return to duty agreement are complied with.

Further information on Substance Abuse Professional services can be found through Integrated Workplace Solutions