Ridout Barron


Union has human rights concerns about drug testing despite ruling

Random drug testing is a hot button topic in employment law. Employees and unions may argue that there are human rights concerns with this practice, as it violates workers' privacy and dignity. Although employers may argue it is a necessary safety precaution, a recent decision from the Court of Appeal of Alberta has confirmed a ruling in a recent case over the matter.

The union that represents employees of Suncor energy, Unifor 707A, took legal action against the random tests when they were first administered in 2012, claiming there were human rights concerns about the how the drug testing invaded workers' privacy. Suncor said the testing was necessary due to the workers needing to operate heavy machinery. The union represents 2,800 employees.

The long legal battle saw its first ruling in 2014, when an arbitration tribunal ruled in favour of the union. The decision was appealed and quashed in 2016 by a Court of Queen's Bench Justice. Unifor was dismissed upon appeal by the Alberta Court of Appeal last September, although the union continues to seek ways of appealing the decision in the Supreme Court. 

Conversations about drug use and workplace safety are prevalent in Alberta as recreational marijuana becomes legal across Canada. This case and others demonstrate the difficult legal balance in human rights concerns regarding worker safety and worker privacy. Those looking to implement new drug-related policies in their business or who are looking to challenge policies which they feel violate their rights may benefit by discussing their case with an Alberta lawyer.

Source: Edmonton - CBC News, "Court reserves decision on Suncor's random drug testing of employees", Josee St-onge, Feb. 8, 2018

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