Random Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace

Balancing Employee Privacy Interests with Workplace Safety
Balancing Employee Privacy Interests with Workplace Safety
Labour Relations

In modern society, safety and privacy interests frequently seem to conflict, particularly in the workplace. Random drug and alcohol testing is one instance when these interests may conflict. Employers are obligated under occupational safety legislation to provide a safe workplace for employees. The risk of workplace accidents increases if employees are working under the influence of drugs or alcohol. To mitigate that risk, some employers have implemented policies of random drug or alcohol testing. Employees and unions often object to such policies on the basis that random drug or alcohol testing infringes employee privacy interests.

Several months ago, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that employee privacy interests outweighed employer safety concerns in Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, Local 30 v Irving Pulp & Paper, Ltd., 2013 SCC 34 (“Irving”). Irving marks the first time the Supreme Court of Canada has considered workplace drug or alcohol testing. Further, Irving is a departure from some of the earlier appellate court decisions on drug and alcohol testing, which focused on the legality of such policies under human rights legislation, as opposed to privacy considerations.

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