Teck Coal Random Alcohol Testing Update

On June 3, 2013, A British Columbian Arbitrator denied the United Steelworkers application for an interim injunction that would prohibit the performance of random drug and alcohol testing at Teck Coal Mines, until the union’s grievances were addressed. The decision provided another perspective in the jurisprudence that is rapidly evolving around drug and alcohol testing in Canadian workplaces.

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Employee’s safety and infringement of privacy were two of the main risk assessments done by the arbitrator. He concluded that employer’s interest in protecting their employees was paramount, as irreparable harm would be in the greatest degree in result of failure. He also stated that “the essence of the employer’s expert evidence is that random drug and alcohol testing has been proven to be the most effective means of preventing industrial accidents due to impairment.”

Consideration of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, Local 707 vs. Suncor Energy Inc. case was taken into account when the arbitrator made his decision regarding Teck Coal. This makes the case notable due to Suncor remaining the only case to be upheld by the Alberta Court of Appeal with regards to interim injunctions respecting random drug testing.

In response to the court of appeal’s concerns regarding lack of evidence in the Suncor case, Teck Coal presented substantial evidence in regards to random drug and alcohol tests preventing industrial accidents. The arbitrator concluded that, due to their substantial evidence, concerns expressed by the majority of the Court of Appeal in the Suncor case were diminished and the conclusion will be different despite their factual similarities.

The decision may not be binding, however it may offer a new insight into the interpretation of the Suncor decision. It also provides additional consideration to the validity of safety sensitive positions incorporating random alcohol testing.

As the future of random alcohol testing waits for the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in the Irving Pulp & Paper Ltd. vs. Communications, Energy and Paperworkers of Canada, Local 30, employers are seeking to implement more policies pending the outcome of this case. This decision is expected to provide guidance on how courts should be treating alcohol testing in Canadian workplaces.

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