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Drug or alcohol dependency and abuse as a disability

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Section 5(1) of the Code prohibits discrimination in employment on several grounds including "disability." The Code adopts an expansive definition of the term "disability" which encompasses physical, psychological and mental conditions. Severe substance abuse is classified as a form of substance dependence,[9] which has been recognized as a form of disability. Examples include alcoholism and the abuse of legal drugs (e.g. over the counter drugs) or illicit drugs. These types of abuse and dependence therefore constitute a disability within the meaning of the Code.

The following examples represent situations in which the use of legal or illicit drugs or alcohol may fall within the Code[10]:

  1. Where an individual's use of drugs or alcohol has reached the stage that it constitutes severe substance abuse, addiction or dependency, e.g. maladaptive patterns of substance use leading to significant impairment or distress, including:
    (a) recurrent substance abuse resulting in a failure to fulfil major obligations at work
    (b) recurrent substance abuse in situations which are physically hazardous
    (c)continued substance abuse despite persistent social, legal or interpersonal problems caused or aggravated by the effects of the substance.[11] 
  2. Where an individual is perceived as having an addiction or dependency due to drug or alcohol use, the Code will protect that individual.

    Example: An employer refuses to promote a particular employee because of the perception that the employee has an alcohol dependency. As a result of this perception and consequent action on the part of the employer, the individual's right to equal treatment under the Code may have been infringed.

  3. An individual who has had a drug or alcohol dependency in the past, but who no longer suffers from an ongoing disability, is still protected by the Code.

[8] "Disability" is used in the Code and OHRC documents as the most appropriate term; however prior versions of the Code made reference to the word "handicap."
[9] "Drug abuse and drug dependence are diseases, illnesses, malfunctions and
mental disorders, which can create mental impairment and result in mental disorder and physical disability". Entrop v. Imperial Oil Ltd., Interim Decision #8 Sept. 12, 1996, Decision No. 96-030-I. This aspect of the ruling was not challenged on appeal to the Court of Appeal. See Entrop, infra at note 14.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Adapted from the definition of "substance abuse" in the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 4th ed., 1994) cited in Entrop #8, supra note 9.

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