Drug testing in Canada can be a sensitive matter. This is due to the fine line between substance abuse and addiction. Human rights legislation includes addiction under the protected category of disability while privacy laws ask the question: has the employer used the least intrusive method to gather necessary information? Having a drug and alcohol policy in place as part of your human resources program can often address these key areas and serve as a defense if a case arises. The key areas to include in your policy are as follows:

  • The company’s commitment

i.e. The Company is committed to providing a safe and healthy work environment. It is the intent of the Company to establish and maintain a work environment that is free from the effects of substance abuse. It is also the goal of the Company to assist in preserving the physical and psychological health of its employees by eliminating substance abuse. The Company believes this can be possible through achieving an alcohol and drug-free workplace.

  • Reasons for testing:
  1. Pre-employment (should be connected to role and responsibilities)
  2. Site requirement
  3. Post-incident
  4. Reasonable suspicion
  • Available assistance (if the employee requests)
  • Consequences of infractions

In a recent case Vale (Manitoba Operations) v. United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, Local 6166 (Arne Peltz, Labour Arbitrator, August 2, 2013) an employee was dismissed with just cause in spite of a present addiction. The reason was the employee’s failure to produce, at arbitration, a formal written diagnosis of addiction. The arbitrator decided that the employee “had a problem with marijuana use but a dependency or addiction was not established on the evidence.” As such, he was not entitled to accommodation under human rights legislation.

In this case a policy detailing the employee’s responsibilities was effective. Your human resource program’s drug and alcohol policy can be your defense as well if all the necessary details are included. Please contact your PEO Canada HR contact for assistance with policy development.


Samantha Kirby / Team Lead, HR Services / PEO Canada