Supreme Court of Canada rejects random alcohol testing in the workplace

July 16th, 2013 by Dan Stone

This blog is written by our law summer student, Michelle Farb

Recently and for the first time, The Supreme Court of Canada weighed in on alcohol testing in the workplace. In Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, Local 30 v. Irving Pulp & Paper, Ltd., the Court overturned the Irving mill’s right to impose mandatory and random alcohol testing on its unionized workers.

The mill’s union challenged the 2006 policy that forced 10% of workers in “safety-sensitive” positions to undergo random alcohol testing. The arbitration board allowed the grievance, ruling that the mill had failed to establish the necessity of the policy. In making their decision, the board weighed the employer’s interest in randomly testing to ensure safety in the workplace, against the harm of infringing upon employees’ privacy rights. The majority of the board agreed with the union and concluded that the random testing was unjustified because evidence demonstrating existing problems of alcohol use in the workplace was lacking.

The New Brunswick Court of Appeal dismissed the grievance in 2011, ruling that the mill qualified as an inherently dangerous place, so the union appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. The highest court ultimately sided with the board, and deemed the policy to be unreasonable.

Employers should remember that they need good reason to interfere with and infringe upon employees’ privacy rights. The decision stated that testing particular employees in certain circumstances is only justified where: (1) there are reasonable grounds to believe an employee was impaired while on duty; (2) where an employee was directly involved in a workplace accident or significant incident, and (3) where the employee returns to work after treatment for substance abuse.

This case has been closely followed by many employers throughout the country, particularly by Suncor in Alberta. Suncor has been trying to implement an alcohol and drug testing program for its contractors and employees at its operations in Fort McMurray. Even though courts in this region have historically been more receptive to random screening (or something to that effect), the Supreme Court’s ruling is very clear. If an employer wants to conduct a random drug test, they now need to cross a fairly high bar in order to justify their policy and demonstrate an existent drug or alcohol abuse problem in the workplace. However, to date; Suncor has not presented such evidence.

Visit the link for the decision regarding why the Supreme Court Of Canada Rejects Random Alcohol Testing In The Workplace.

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