HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Rights Agency Nixes Workplace Drug Tests
Pubdate: Thu, 11 Jul 2002
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002 The London Free Press a division of Sun Media Corporation.
Author: Sandra Cordon


OTTAWA -- Random drug and alcohol testing of workers and pre-screening of 
potential new employees have been ruled an abuse of human rights by the 
federal watchdog.

A policy announced yesterday by the Canadian Human Rights Commission rules 
drug or alcohol dependence are disabilities and workers with those problems 
must be helped, not fired, by their boss.

"Employers, with very, very few exceptions, should not be testing 
employees, or candidates for employment, for drugs," said the commission's 
Catherine Barratt.

If an employer wants to know whether one of his staff uses drugs or drinks 
too much on weekends, that means he "perceives the use of those substances 
is going to disable them from doing their job on Monday and that's 
forbidden -- that's against the law."

The new rules include a few exceptions that permit testing for impairment.

If an employer has "strong reasonable cause" -- such as an accident -- to 
suspect a worker in a safety-sensitive job such as driving or flying an 
airplane, is impaired, he can test the worker for alcohol in his system, 
said Barratt.

But if the test is positive, the employer is responsible to "accommodate 
the needs" of that worker, including providing medical testing, counselling 
and even reassignment to a job that doesn't affect safety.

Exemptions also are made for cross-border trucking companies, whose drivers 
haul freight into the U.S., where they may have to submit to testing before 
they are licensed, she added.

But if random U.S. tests reveal a problem, the employer has the same 
responsibility to help the worker.

"There needs to be support and rehabilitation and treatment that goes along 
with . . . reassigning them temporarily to a position that is not 
safety-sensitive," Barratt said.

The rules apply to workers in federally regulated industries, from Canada's 
banks and insurers to airlines, telecommunications firms, railways, some 
mining and bus companies and national media outlets.

They can also act as guidelines for companies that aren't regulated by 
Ottawa, but want policies that won't contravene the law, said Barratt.

A 1999 Supreme Court of Canada ruling led the commission to broaden its policy.

Lower court rulings followed, including an Ontario decision involving an 
Imperial Oil Ltd. worker who admitted to a previous drug problem.

When his admission led to control board operator Martin Entrop being 
reassigned, Entrop filed a human rights complaint alleging discrimination 
because of a handicap.

In 1998, the Federal Court of Canada ruled a Toronto-Dominion Bank 
drug-testing policy to screen new hires was discriminatory.
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