Facing Alcoholism in the Workplace

Facing Alcoholism in the Workplace

Alcohol has long been a staple of workplace culture. From holiday parties to team-building events and business lunches, drinking is often seen as a way to socialize and build connections. However, the impacts of alcohol abuse can be devastating, both for individuals and organizations. Alcoholism in the workplace leads to absenteeism, health issues, on-the-job injuries, and significant losses in productivity, costing companies billions annually. More importantly, it affects not just the individual struggling with addiction, but also their colleagues and the overall work environment.

In a recent podcast, Ben, the host, delved into this pressing issue with David Whitten, the founding partner of a major Toronto employment law firm, who has personally battled alcoholism. David’s candid sharing of his experiences offers invaluable insights into the legal protections available for employees dealing with substance abuse and the importance of admitting to these struggles.

David Witten’s story is a powerful testament to the challenges and triumphs of facing alcoholism in the workplace. As a recovering alcoholic, David knows firsthand the professional and personal toll that addiction can take. He spent over a decade in denial, finding excuses for his drinking and ignoring the damage it was causing. His journey to sobriety began with a rock-bottom moment that made him realize the need for change. It was then that he sought help and entered a rehabilitation program, marking the beginning of his recovery.

Why is it important to be candid with employers about addiction struggles?

One of the key points David emphasizes is the legal protection available for those struggling with addiction. Under human rights legislation, alcoholism is recognized as a disability. This means that employers are required to accommodate employees with addiction issues to the point of undue hardship, provided they are aware of the issue. However, this protection only comes into play when employees are honest about their struggles. David highlights the importance of being candid with employers, as hiding the problem only exacerbates it.

Unfortunately, the stigma behind addiction does not make it easy for a person to come forward and admit to themselves, let alone their employer that they have an addiction issue.

Moreover, the shift to remote work has added a new layer of complexity to this issue. In the office, signs of alcohol abuse—such as smelling of alcohol or impaired behavior—are more noticeable. However, in a remote work environment, these signs can be easily hidden, making it harder for employers to recognize and address the problem. David points out that this can disadvantage employees, as the duty to accommodate is triggered by an employer’s knowledge of the issue, which is less likely in a remote setting unless the employee discloses it.

David’s own turning point came when he could no longer ignore the severity of his situation. His marriage had fallen apart, and his professional life was beginning to suffer. A particularly harrowing experience with alcohol poisoning and suicidal thoughts forced him to confront his addiction. This moment of clarity led him to seek rehabilitation, where he quickly realized that he needed to stop drinking entirely. The early days of recovery were tough, but they marked the start of a transformative journey.

David’s message is clear: admitting to an addiction problem is not only the right thing to do legally to protect your job, but it is also essential for personal recovery. He encourages others to come forward and seek the help they need, noting that many people, including employers, are

more understanding and compassionate than one might expect. Sharing his own experience, David found that many colleagues and clients responded with empathy, having dealt with similar issues themselves or through loved ones.

In the end, David reflects on his journey with gratitude. Eight years into his sobriety, he appreciates the deeper self-awareness and the enriched life he now leads. His story is a powerful reminder that facing addiction can lead to profound personal growth and a better quality of life. For anyone struggling with alcoholism, David’s experience offers hope and a clear message: admitting to the problem and seeking help can pave the way to a healthier, more fulfilling future.

If you would like to hear the full podcast, click here to hear Ben and David discuss why admitting you have an alcohol problem or addiction may save your job.