The Supreme Court of Canada released its decision on random alcohol testing in the workplace on June 14, 2013 in the Communications, Energy and Paper workers Union of Canada, Local 30 v. Irving Pulp & Paper, Ltd. case. The long awaited decision deemed alcohol testing in the workplace illegal, even if the testing is strictly for safety reasons.
Random breathalyzer testing policy not permitted
The company reportedly employed random breathalyzer testing in safety-sensitive areas of paper mill operations. Ten percent of employees were chosen randomly by a computer to engage in testing each year. The employer's policy for testing didn't require evidence of alcohol abuse, and the organization said it was trying to enforce a more secure environment. The union voiced its disagreement, stating the testing was against union policies.
The Supreme Court ruled that the fact that the mill is an "inherently dangerous" work environment was not enough reason to justify the testing, as it is only one of the many factors that go into installing a random testing policy. The employer would need to prove that there are other risks associated with substance abuse in the workplace.
According to Mondaq, there were no reports of accidents, injury or potential situations that resulted from intoxicated workers, and no employees tested positive in the nearly two years the testing policy was in place.
JDSupra stated the majority ruled that random testing from blood, urine to breathalyzer violated employees' private rights. The decision therefore confirms that random alcohol testing is not permitted in the workplace in Canada, even in safety-sensitive areas, unless there is evidence of substance abuse. However, unions can also agree to random evaluations. Alcohol and drug testing is legal when there is a reason to believe an employee is impaired, if an incident has already occurred or if the worker is returning to work after substance abuse treatment in Canada.
Be aware of unions' random testing policies
Companies can benefit from understanding the legal limits of human resources. Employee rights need to be maintained in any workforce setting, especially when dealing with union policies. A better understanding of privacy entitlements and how to handle random alcohol testing in the workplace will be beneficial in the future as companies look to promote a safe environment for people to work in.
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