St. John's plans new policy on alcohol, drug abuse

Daniel MacEachern
Published on January 15, 2014
St. John's City Hall. — file photo

A new draft policy on drug and alcohol abuse for the City of St. John’s takes its cue from oilsands companies.


Kevin Breen, the city’s director of human resources, presented the draft policy to the city’s finance and administration standing committee meeting Tuesday afternoon, saying the new policy is the result of requests from managers looking for more guidance on how to handle employees who abuse drugs and alcohol in the workplace.

“We do encounter it,” said Breen. “But a lot of supervisors are not really confident in knowing what to do in these situations.”So this gets into really good detail, and there will be a full training program with this policy as well.”

Breen said sessions would be planned for city management staff to train them to understand the signs and symptoms of impairment, and what constitutes reasonable cause to refer someone to testing.

“The real hallmark of this policy is the testing component,” he said. “It’s not something we’ve gone down the road before. Traditionally, you basically go on a narrative from the supervisor. If someone suspects someone of drinking or smoking drugs, you get a statement from them. This would remove any of that uncertainty, and they would be referred for a test through our provider, and it’s a yes or no situation.”

Breen said the policy is not just for management, but employees who are seeking treatment. He added that the city’s draft policy piggybacks on policies established by companies working in Alberta’s oilsands.

“They’ve got this stuff down to a science. A lot of municipalities have policies like these, but they’re not nearly as detailed,” he said.


Presented to council

Neil Martin, city clerk and deputy city manager of corporate services, said the city’s current policy is a “loose amalgam” of past practices.

“What we have presented to council in draft form is a consolidated, comprehensive policy that deals with the identification of the problem, how to address the problem, how to train our supervisors to recognize the problem, but more importantly what it does is focus on drug and alcohol abuse as a situation that we as an employer need to address along with the employee,” said Martin. He added that the city’s approach will focus on employee assistance, not necessarily employee termination.

It’s still early stages for the draft policy, noted Breen, who said he doesn’t expect the policy to be submitted to council for formal approval before the spring or early summer.

“We still have feedback to get from the unions, and we’re also going to be sending it out to all our management staff as well to get some feedback,” he said.