When can an employer require an alcohol screening test?

If there is no provision in the collective agreement, an employer may not unilaterally impose a mandatory, random and unannounced alcohol screening test. This is the decision just rendered by the Supreme Court of Canada in Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, Local 30 vs. Irving Pulp & Paper.

 

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It is recognized that the members of the appellant union work in a dangerous environment. This does not justify impromptu tests. The judgment analyzes and endorses the arbitral jurisdiction on the subject. “In a dangerous workplace", writes Justice Abella on behalf of the majority, “the employer may conduct a test on an employee if it has reasonable grounds to believe that the latter is impaired in  performance of his duties, was involved in a work accident or incident or resumes services after completing treatment to combat alcoholism or drug abuse. In the latter case, the employee may be subject to a program of random drug or alcohol tests for which the union has negotiated the conditions.”

The exception to this rule applies “if (the) policy is based on reasonable grounds, such as a general problem of alcoholism or drug abuse in the workplace.” The employer may then impose a test unilaterally.

The highest court of the land gives the example of the Strathcona case, where the arbitrator had validated the test after the employer submitted a survey in which 2.7% of employees said that they themselves had had a near-accident in the 12 months preceding the survey due to consumption of drugs or alcohol.

According to Irving, eight incidents allegedly occurred over a 15 year period, which does not reveal a serious problem of alcohol consumption in the workplace.

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