How Suncor decisions impact Canadian testing

Starting in the first quarter of 2019, workers and contractors of Suncor Energy will be subject to random alcohol and drug tests. Suncor Energy, a Canadian integrated energy company based in Calgary, Alberta, specializes in the production of oil and natural gas in Western Canada, and operates multiple refineries across the country. The jobs subject to random drug testing will include, but are not limited to jobs which involve handling heavy equipment, as well as various trades and office jobs.

Agreement between Suncor and the Union

The union Unifor Local 707A has been involved in a long-term court battle with Suncor since 2012 over the issue of implementing random drug testing in the workplace. After seven years of legal battle, Suncor and the Union reached an agreement and Unifor Local 707A discontinued its legal action with Suncor. By dropping the issue, Unifor Local 707A union has agreed to the implementation of random drug testing in order to test Suncor employees for alcohol and drug use. It should be noted that the implementation of a random drug and alcohol testing program for people holding “safety-sensitive positions” was based on the agreement of the Union and Suncor, and was not based on a judicial decision which pronounced this action as acceptable.

Implications for Employers

The recent legalization of cannabis in Canada has opened the debates regarding random drug testing in the workplace. Implementation of random drug testing programs has the potential of affecting greater numbers of employees, which increases the risk of employee complaints and public scrutiny. On the other hand, legalization of cannabis also has some feeling there is an increase in the risk of employees coming to work while impaired, which could increase safety risks.

These issues make it difficult for employers to find an equilibrium between ensuring workers’ safety and respecting their privacy. From the legal point of view, random drug or alcohol testing programs may be justifiable if they address both legitimate safety concerns and privacy interests. For random drug or alcohol testing to be allowed, the employer must have evidence of a problem related to drug or alcohol misuse in the workplace sufficient to justify the breach of employee privacy rights.

It is possible that with the implementation of a random drug and alcohol testing program by Suncor, other employers may be encouraged to implement such programs. However, the Supreme Court of Canada has previously determined in the case of Irving Pulp & Paper Ltd. v CEP, Local 30 that random drug testing involves intrusion of individuals’ privacy rights, as well as a bodily intrusion and the surrender of bodily substances. Additionally, the legal battle between Suncor and the Union has not established any legal precedents. Therefore, it is recommended that employers carefully evaluate the necessity of implementing random drug tests in the workplace, carefully weighing workplace safety and employees’ privacy.

You can read more about the background of this case here and here.

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