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Supreme Court Rules on Drug and Alcohol Testing in Unionized Workplaces


A divided Supreme Court has ruled for the first time on the issue of drug and alcohol testing in unionized workplaces, says a Heenan Blaikie ‘Focus’ from its labour, employment, and human rights law group. The case involved a random alcohol testing policy established by Irving Pulp & Paper. The policy applied to employees in safety-sensitive positions in a kraft paper mill. An employee selected for random alcohol testing objected and the union grieved the policy. The grievance was allowed by the arbitration board, essentially on the ground that the employer had failed to show a serious problem of alcohol abuse in the workplace. There had been eight incidents where employees were found to be under the influence of alcohol in the 15 years prior to the filing of the grievance. The New Brunswick courts quashed the decision as an erroneous application of the law. The majority decision of the Supreme Court endorses a line of arbitral case law that permits testing of employees in safety-sensitive positions in dangerous work environments for cause and, in strictly limited circumstances, for alcohol impairment on a random basis. Nothing in the supreme court majority’s judgment limits an employer’s right to establish reasonable ‘for cause’ drug or alcohol testing policies or to establish random drug or alcohol testing policies in dangerous workplaces if the employer establishes the existence of general problem of drug or alcohol abuse in a particular workplace. Importantly, says the commentary, both the majority and minority judgments reject the drawing of distinctions among inherently dangerous workplaces based on efforts to distinguish precise degrees of dangerousness.

Courtesy of Benefits and Pensions Monitor website News Alerts

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