We don’t know why there were drug-sniffing dogs on hand when 300 contractors got off the bus at Highland Valley Copper this week.
But we’re glad they were there.
Not because we necessarily support random drug testing in the workplace, but because the rules still need to be clarified, and this is how it will happen.
Drug testing of employees in the workplace has long been a sensitive issue. Nobody wants drugs in the workplace — employers and unions alike have zero-tolerance policies, citing the dangers to worker safety from impaired employees. But the right of workers to privacy and dignity — and protection against potential abuse of drug searches by employers — need to be met as well.
At the moment, there is no legislation in Canada permitting or regulating drug and alcohol testing of employees, which means courts and human rights tribunal rulings are providing the precedent — building the law piece by piece, so employers, workers and unions know where the lines are.
Testing potential workers before hiring has been found to be discriminatory under provincial human rights legislation, though in Alberta mandatory pre-employment drug testing was ruled permissible by the courts for some employers
in the oil sands due to high potential safety concerns.
Just a few months ago, the largest precedent to date was established by the Supreme Court of Canada in a New Brunswick case. The court’s ruling established that random drug and alcohol testing of workers is not permitted, even in a dangerous work environment, unless the employer can prove a general problem with drug abuse in the workplace.
That went a long way toward closing one of the arguments. But how do employers prove a problem in the workplace?
Drug-sniffing dogs might be the answer — or they might be an unconscionable violation of
employee’s rights. The law is still evolving. Either governments need to step forward and clarify through legislation what will and will not be permitted, or employers need to keep pushing the envelope like this, and get the courts to clarify when employees and unions push back.
Leaving things in the grey area is the real danger zone. Some day a worker — or dozens of workers — will die, or an environmental disaster will be unleashed, due to the actions of an employee impaired by drugs or alcohol. We need to figure out the balance between privacy and safety before then.
We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by publisher Tim Shoults, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.