Ensuring safety in the workplace should not cross the right to privacy of any employee.
This appears to be the drive behind the decision of Canada’s Supreme Court June 14 against the employee policy of Irving Pulp and Paper Ltd. implemented in 2006. The company’s policy required all unionized employees to be subjected to random alcohol testing in order to ensure safety of the company’s manufacturing plant, according to a news report.
Local 30 of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) filed a grievance against the company in 2006.
According to the supreme court decision, the paper company’s policy encroaches on the rights of employees to privacy, even if the workers are employed in a critical area within the facility. The high court voted 6-3 against the company.
Furthermore, the decision stated that mandatory workplace testing only applies in the work setting under the following conditions: (1) the company has experienced worker impairment while employed; (2) an employee figured in a work-related accident or safety issue; and (3) the worker has a history or case of substance abuse, and has returned to work following necessary treatment.
CEP president David Coles was hopeful that this supreme court decision could lead to another triumph in a similar case in Alberta’s Suncor Energy, where plans to implement a random alcohol and drug testing system are being laid out.
Furthermore, he said that the ruling shows that policies on random testing in high-risk facilities do not guarantee employee protection. “It turns out to be nothing more than an invasion of ones’ privacy with no net gain for the consequence of safety,” Coles added.