Drug Testing in the Workplace

Based on a recent survey, about 10% of Canadian worksites with 100 or more employees have a drug testing program. We know that people who are under influence of drugs at work might put themselves and others at risk, but what can employers do about it?

According to Alberta Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, employers and employees have the obligations and share their responsibilities to protect the health and safety for the workers and other persons at the worksite. Here we will explore the ins and outs of drug testing in the workplace.

Why do Companies Drug Test?

In many companies, drug testing is primarily conducted in situations where safety is a concern. The drug test shows whether someone has recently used certain drugs, which can help to reduce industrial incidents related to drug use and improve safety at the workplace.

There are many types of employment-related drug tests:

The most common form of drug testing in Canada is urinalysis. Urine samples from employees are analyzed for recent use of drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, opiates, and amphetamines. It should be noted that “a positive test result for drugs generally means that there was exposure to use of a substance, but it does not indicate how impaired the person may be, how often the person uses the substance, or whether someone has a substance use problem”. Because of this, even under Canadian law, employers could have employees undergo a drug test if it is reasonable.

The Complications of Drug Testing

Unfortunately, drug tests cannot detect whether someone is impaired by a drug at the time of the test. This can make things complex for the employer and has led to numerous court cases involving employees and human rights organizations acting on behalf of employees who have contested drug testing by employers in the workplace.

Meanwhile, The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health does not recommend testing employees but any reason other than if there is evidence that substance use is compromising workplace or public safety or is directly affecting job performance.  

Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission also stated based on current human rights case law:

So, what is the bottom line? The testing for drugs might be only implemented in the workplace as part of a well thought out and carefully considered policy.

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