Where Are We With Alcohol and Drug Testing?

The recent Supreme Court of Canada decision about random alcohol testing has received a lot of attention, for good reason.  Now seems to be a good time to review where we are and what employers must do if they want to have an effective drug and alcohol policy.

As noted in earlier commentary on the Irving Pulp decision, the matter of drug and alcohol testing has been evolving for some years, and that is likely to continue as different facts generate different concerns.  In the meantime, employers have interests and obligations that demand the implementation of effective drug and alcohol policies.

Here are a few general principles to keep in mind:

  • The overarching goal - on paper and in reality - must be a safe and productive workplace and a healthy workforce.
  • Testing can be an important component of the policy, but as a tool to achieve the goal, not an end in itself.
  • The possibility of drug or alcohol dependence must be recognized, addressed and accommodated.
  • The policy must be clear and consistent, with sufficient flexibility and discretion to adapt to all circumstances.
  • Flexibility and discretion requires that all employees, and especially supervisors and managers, are well trained, and regularly refreshed, in how to administer the policy.
  • Supervisors and managers in particular must be trained and supported in how to respond to situations that arise at work, including immediate mitigation of safety risks and simple investigation and evidence gathering methods.
  • With respect to testing:
    • Recognize the significant privacy interests of individuals which must be weighed against safety and production interests.
    • Recognize the limits of current drug testing techniques - in particular the challenge of identifying current impairment as opposed to past use.
    • Ensure that any testing is "reasonable" in all the circumstances.

If you are going to review your current drug and alcohol policies and procedures, you may wish to look back at earlier posts we have done and also at the joint union/management policy in the BC construction industry.

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