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Posts tagged: drug and alcohol testing

The Latest on the Legality of Random Drug & Alcohol Testing

By , February 20, 2018 9:18 am

In 2013, the issue of whether an employer can unilaterally implement random drug testing was addressed by the Supreme Court of CanadaBottom line: there are very few instances when random drug testing will be permitted.

This blog summarizes a recent arbitration award where a union challenged an employer’s random drug testing policy at a coal mine.

The Facts

The arbitrator found that anyone working in mine operations, the mine maintenance department, and in the coal plant was involved in a safety-sensitive job.

Further, he found  that the work and surroundings involved in all three of these operations required employees to maintain a continuing alertness so that they did not cause an accident that might injure themselves and/or another employee, or were not injured by someone else’s carelessness.

In 2012, the employer unilaterally implemented random drug and alcohol testing that required employees to, among other things,  provide breath or urine samples. If there was a positive result then the employee was required to meet with an additional specialist and disclose personal health information.

The Issue

The issue in random drug and alcohol cases is how to resolve the conflict between an employer’s interest in making their workplaces safe, and an employee’s interest in protecting their privacy.

The Test

  1. Have employees’ privacy rights been infringed and, if so, to what degree;
  2. If so, is there sufficient or adequate cause to justify the search and seizure and resulting privacy intrusions represented by random testing; and, if so,
  3. Is random testing a proportionate response to that “demonstrable workplace problem”?

The Decision

After a 39 day hearing, the arbitrator concluded:

  1. Random drug and/or alcohol testing is a prima facie privacy violation
  2. The fact that an employer’s workplace is dangerous does not, in and by itself, establish a legitimate need for random drug and alcohol testing. There was no evidence of a “demonstrated workplace problem” or “a general problem with substance abuse in the workplace.” In this regard, in the five years leading up to the random testing, the number of positive tests were relatively low for post-accident testing, averaging between one and two positive post-incident drug tests per year.
  3. Neither a positive breathalyzer test at .02% BAC nor a positive urinalysis test for the presence of cannabis or cocaine metabolites establishes that an employee was under the influence of, or impaired by, any of those substances.  Such positive tests only establish that the employee has used those substances in the past, not that he was impaired at the time of the test.

The arbitrator also noted that no evidence was led on whether or not there were any less intrusive means of measuring impairment that would be equally as effective such as “computer-assisted employee performance testing” which is more commonly known as “impairment testing.”

Lessons to Be Learned

  1. It is possible but extraordinarily difficult to justify a random drug and alcohol policy.
  2. Unionized employees will almost certainly grieve the policy under the applicable collective agreement, and non-unionized employees can file an application under human rights legislation.
  3. The onus is on the employer to justify the need for the policy.
  4. The employer must demonstrate an actual problem with substance abuse in the workplace; not a theoretical problem.
  5. The employer’s testing protocol needs to prove impairment; not use.

For over 30 years, Doug MacLeod of the MacLeod Law Firm has been advising employers on all aspects of the employment relationship. If you have any questions, you can contact him directly at 416 317-9894 or at [email protected]

Marijuana legalization – How Employers Should Navigate the Hazy Legal Landscape

By , January 11, 2018 10:45 am

The legalization of marijuana is expected to change Ontario’s employment law landscape in 2018. Legislation is expected to be implemented by July 2018.

It is not too early for employers to take proactive steps to address these changes.

Expected changes

Bill C-45, An Act respecting Cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts (the “Bill”) passed its second reading on November 27, 2017. Although the bill will legalize cannabis across Canada, the provinces and territories will generally determine how marijuana can be sold and used. The Bill allows the Minister of Labour to make regulations relating to smoking in the workplace.

What employers should do

Employers should review their current workplace policies and if a drug and alcohol policy does not exist, then the employer should consider  adding one before the new cannabis laws take effect. Among other things, the policy should recognise that recreational use of marijuana will be legalized under the Bill requires a different approach than medical use of marijuana which has been legal since 1999.

Although the legalization of marijuana is a big change, employers often forget that just because something is legal, does not mean it is permissible at the workplace. For example, alcohol is legal, however, employers are entitled to expect that their employees report to work sober and refrain from drinking alcohol at the workplace. Similarly, simply because recreational marijuana is being legalized does not mean that it is permissible to smoke marijuana at the workplace, or attend the workplace impaired. Employers can set out their expectations regarding impairment and safety at the workplace in workplace policies and procedures.

With respect to medical use of marijuana, employers need to be mindful of their obligations under Ontario’s Human Rights Code, namely, the duty to accommodate employees to the point of  undue hardship, which may include permitting an employee to work while under the influence of marijuana. The duty to accommodate does not eliminate an employer’s right to seek medical proof of prescription and medical documentation supporting the fact that the employee is required to ingest marijuana during working hours, nor does it eliminate an employer’s duty to ensure that the workplace is safe for all employees. Thus, employers must remain prepared to deal with marijuana-related accommodation requests on a case by case basis, taking into consideration the employee’s medical needs and their obligations under health and safety laws.

Lessons to Be Learned

The legalization of marijuana is changing the legal landscape. Due to these changes, we recommend that new policies be drafted to address the anticipated increase in  marijuana use, or that existing policies be amended to ensure they are consistent with the upcoming changes. The MacLeod Law Firm offers a fixed fee service to prepare new drug & alcohol policies, or to revise existing policies.

If you have any questions regarding the effect of the Bill on your workplace, or would like to learn more about the fixed fee service mentioned above, feel free to contact 647-985-9894.

Can my organization implement a drug testing policy at the workplace?

By , July 24, 2017 10:24 am

If you’ve been following the news over the last few months, you know that the Ontario Superior Court of Justice refused to allow the union’s injunction against the TTC’s random drug and alcohol testing policy. More recently, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the termination of an employee who was terminated for violating his employer’s drug testing policy. These developments have led to us answering many questions from employers (and news publications) about whether they can also test their employees for drugs and alcohol.

Despite the TTC’s success at court, employers should proceed with caution when instituting drug and alcohol testing at the workplace. Firstly, the issue before the court was not whether such a policy was discriminatory. Secondly, the court refused the union’s injunction because of both the safety-sensitive industry and the wide area in which the TTC operates. Furthermore, the caselaw preceding the TTC decision shows that there is a high evidentiary burden an employer must satisfy to justify random drug testing its employees.

Because addictions to drugs or alcohol are considered “disabilities” under the Ontario Human Rights Code, drug and alcohol testing has human rights implications for people with addictions. For example, a human rights issue may arise where a positive test leads to automatic negative consequences for a person based on an addiction.

However, courts and tribunals recognise that it is a legitimate goal for employers to have a safe workplace, particularly in safety-sensitive industries. Therefore, there is caselaw that has recognised that a drug testing policy is justifiable if an employer can show that the policy is a bona fide (i.e. legitimate) requirement of the job. However, even if the policy is a legitimate requirement, employers should strive to minimise any potential discriminatory impact, and be prepared to accommodate employees with addictions who are negatively impacted by the policy.

Another requirement for a drug and alcohol testing policy to be found justifiable is that it must measure impairment, as opposed to drug or alcohol use. For example, while alcohol testing is able to measure a person’s impairment quite accurately, because drugs can remain in a person’s system for quite some time after their use, drug testing is less accurate at measuring impairment rather than drug use. For this reason, alcohol testing tends to be more permissible than drug testing. Similarly, testing after an accident or a “near-miss” is more justifiable than random testing.

Lessons to be Learned

As we get closer to marijuana being legal in Canada, questions around workplace safety and the permissibility of drug testing are bound to increase. We will continue to publish additional information as more relevant cases are released. In the meantime, if you are considering implementing a drug and alcohol testing policy at the workplace, you should consult an employment lawyer to find out whether such a policy would survive the scrutiny of a court or tribunal.

The material and information in this blog and this website are for general information only. They should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information referred to in this blog or its links. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog. Readers should obtain appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.

How to Get Away with Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace

By , May 5, 2016 9:00 am

The federal government has announced that there will be marijuana legislation in place by next spring, which should fulfill a campaign promise to legalize marijuana. Marijuana would no longer only be legal for medicinal purposes, but also recreationally. Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott has said that “[w]hile this plan challenges the status quo in many countries, we are convinced it is the best way to protect our youth while enhancing public safety.” So what does this mean for employers? Some may be concerned about employees being impaired by marijuana during working hours.

It seems to be a concern that is on the mind of the TTC as the TTC Board has approved a random alcohol and drug testing policy. This policy is opposed by the Union and we expect the Union will grieve this policy under the applicable collective agreement.

As an employer, if you are considering implementing a random alcohol and drug testing, you should know that except in exceptional circumstances such a policy is generally illegal in Canada. In order for a random testing policy to be acceptable, an employer must show:

  • It is a safety sensitive workplace;
  • There is evidence of a pervasive substance abuse problem which can be tied to the safety of the workplace;
  • Other measures to deter substance abuse have failed; and
  • Testing must assess current impairment

Accordingly, an employer has the burden of meeting a very high evidentiary threshold that is extremely difficult to do. The Courts have stated that the unless an employer can show that there is a pervasive drug problem affecting safety that random testing is generally too invasive and harmful to an employee’s privacy rights; the potential harm outweighs the potential good.

However, an employer can generally have a drug and alcohol policy that requires an employee to submit to drug and/or alcohol testing following a significant incident, accident, or near miss, where it is important to identify the root cause of what occurred. In addition, random drug and/or alcohol testing is generally permissible as part of an employee’s rehabilitation plan provided that it is for a specific duration – typically not longer than two years.

 Lessons for Employers

  1. If you have a safety sensitive work environment, you may want to have a drug and alcohol testing policy that allows for testing after a significant incident, accident, or near miss.
  2. Keep in mind that as employer, you have a duty to accommodate employees with substance abuse problems to the point of undue hardship.  If someone tests positive after an incident, accident or near miss, then you need to consider whether there is a substance abuse problem, which would be considered a disability under human rights legislation.
  3. It is unlikely that a random drug and alcohol testing policy will be permissible unless you can show a persistent drug problem in the workplace which can be tied to safety concerns in the workplace.

If you would like to speak to one of our lawyers about a current drug and alcohol policy or implementing such a policy, please contact us at [email protected] or 647-204-8107.

“The material and information provided on this blog and this website are for general information only and should not, in any respect, be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information linked or referred to or contained herein. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog, without first retaining counsel and obtaining appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed to practice law in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not constitute legal advice and do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.”

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