Drug testing proposal splits group helping Liberals

The committee comprised of federally regulated employers, labour groups, and federal officials assigned to help the federal government navigate marijuana testing regulations for Canadian workers has not been able to reach consensus, meaning that no new federal rules concerning workplace impairment will be implemented before the upcoming July legalization deadline.

This also means that employers’ requests for rules regarding safety-sensitive jobs that would allow for random drug testing in the workplace will not be addressed before July, leaving random drug testing dependent on union approval and whether or not the employer can prove that an employee’s general substance abuse problem poses a safety risk.

Random drug testing in the workplace has been a hotbed issue since the 1980s, with present day rules resulting from the combined efforts of labour arbitrators, human rights tribunals, and the court system. Now that the federal government plans to legalize marijuana, the government is feeling pressure to set national guidelines for job site cannabis testing that accommodate complications arising from by human and privacy rights legislation, as well as considerations for workers whose addictions are defined as disabilities.

“It is the government of Canada that has chosen to legalize marijuana–we have no moral judgment one way or the other on that–but we do think that incumbent upon the government is to follow that bill with a parallel bill that gets to the issue of workplace safety,” said Derrick Hynes, executive director of FETCO, which represents federally regulated workers.

Head of Canadian Labour Congress Hassan Yussuff doesn’t believe legalization will alter the way in which employers handle workplace impairment. He says, “The law is very clear that you can’t come to work in an impaired fashion to work and if your employer should find you (impaired), they, of course, can take whatever steps are necessary.”

Currently, the Liberals have not allowed random testing to occur in workplaces, but have not rejected the idea either. In January, Labour Minister Patty Hajdu and her provincial and territorial counterparts agreed to continue to work to keep talks open until national regulations are achieved.

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