Human Capital - Fall 2013 - (Page 35)
Drug and Alcohol Policies
in the Workplace
BY JEAN TORRENS AND WALTER PAVLIC
AS LEADERS IN THE workplace, Human Resources (HR) professionals are responsible for developing and enforcing policies to
ensure safety in the workplace. Drug and alcohol use presents a
significant risk of accident, property damage, and personal injury.
HR professionals should establish clear, well-drafted and consistently enforced drug and alcohol policies.
protecting workplace safety. The nature of the work being done is
also relevant; workers in a safety sensitive position can be subject
to testing more readily.
An effective drug and alcohol policy will state that:
• The possession, distribution and sale of illegal drugs or alcohol
in the workplace are strictly prohibited;
• Employees are prohibited from having any amount of illegal drugs
or unauthorized controlled substances in their system while at
• Employees are responsible for promoting workplace safety and
have an obligation to report to their immediate supervisor if
they believe another employee is impaired at work or presents a
danger to others;
• Violations of the policy will result in discipline, up to and including termination of employment.
• Employees should not expect any privacy in their use of the
employer’s property, such as vehicles, lockers, and break rooms;
• Employees may be required to submit to searches of their property
or their person.
• Pre-employment screening for safety-sensitive positions;
• Post-incident testing, where an employee has suffered a workplace injury or been involved in an accident involving company
equipment or vehicles; and
• Testing on reasonable suspicion of impairment, based on observations of their behavior in the workplace by co-workers or
The courts, labour arbitrators, and privacy commissioners have
recognized that employees may reasonably expect some degree of
privacy in the workplace, and that employees have some protection
against unreasonably intrusive searches and testing.
The more invasive the search, the more difficult it will be to justify
as a reasonable exercise of the employer’s rights of management. A
locker search is a relatively minor privacy violation, while a demand
for a urine or saliva sample is more invasive. Less invasive testing
methods, such as breathalyzers, are easier to justify than more
invasive measures such as urinalysis or blood tests.
Drug and alcohol tests are, by their nature, invasions of personal
privacy. These samples contain a wealth of information about an
individual’s body, their personal health and their habits both at and
away from the workplace. Even the manner in which such samples
are gathered inevitably affects the privacy of one’s own body. But
these privacy interests will often yield to an employer’s interest in
Drug and alcohol testing should be considered in the following
Employers should also consider the effect of privacy legislation, such
as the Personal Information Protection Act and the Health Information
Act, on the collection, retention and use of drug and alcohol screening
results. Random testing and some pre-employment screening may
also raise concerns under the Alberta Human Rights Act, as drug and
alcohol use is a recognized form of disability in Alberta. The recent
SCC decision in Irving Pulp and Paper determined that random
testing in safety sensitive environment is generally not allowed, but
may be permitted where the employer has strong evidence that a
drug or alcohol problem exists in the workplace.
Labour and employment case law has identified several preconditions to the enforcement of drug and alcohol policies and any
• The policy must be clear and unequivocal.
• The policy must be brought to the attention of the employees.
• The employee concerned must have been notified that a breach
of the policy could result in his dismissal if the rule is used as a
foundation for termination for cause.
• The policy should have been consistently enforced by the company
from the time it was introduced.
• The policy must not be inconsistent with any collective agreement.
HR professionals should also be sensitive to concerns of discrimination when disciplining or terminating employees for violating drug
and alcohol policies. As a recognized disability, drug or alcohol
addiction may require employers to accommodate an employee.
HUMAN CAPITAL O FALL 2013 O 35
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Human Capital - Fall 2013
Shared Responsibilities: Human Resources Management and Health, Safety, Environment & Quality Processes
HR & HSEQ Together: Planning for a State of Emergency
Training versus Competency in the Demonstration of Due Diligence
Synergies between the Human Resources and the Health, Safety, & Environment Departments
Mobilizing HR and HSEQ for Positive Organizational Change in Health, Wellness and Productivity
HR & HSEQ: The Team Approach to Building Effective Supervisory Leadership Skills
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Human Capital - Fall 2013