Substance Abuse in the Workplace

As widespread drug use is on the rise, many employers have begun to worry about the performance of their employees. Absenteeism, injuries, loss of productivity, employee morale, theft and fatalities are just some of the causes of drug use in the workplace. The idea of drug testing among workers has developed from society\'s concern over a perceived increase in the use of drugs and the relation between drug use and impairment, with resultant risks to the worker, fellow workers and the public. As early as 1987, 21% of employers had instituted drug-testing programs. Employers have begun to think that mass drug tests are the answer to their problems. What many of these employers don\'t know is that there are many problems that surround drug testing at work. One of the biggest of these problems is whether or not it is constitutional to conduct drug tests on the employees. Employers fail to educate themselves with established or recent laws about drug testing in the workplace and about human rights. Also, mass, low-cost screening tests may not be reliable or valid. Alcohol testing does not differentiate casual drinking from alcohol dependence or alcoholism. Drug tests can create an untrustworthy environment for the employees. There are better ways to address substance abuse. Drug testing in the workplace is an important issue for all of Canada\'s labour force, regardless if it\'s you\'re first job or if you\'ve had a steady job for 30 years.

Many employees, who have had to subjugate themselves to degrading and demeaning drug tests, feel that these tests violate their constitutional rights. It is an infringement on their privacy. In order for the tests to make sure there is no specimen tampering there must be an administrator present to oversee every action the employee makes during their drug test. For tests such as hair and breath testing this does present a major problem, but for urine tests men and women alike are disturbed by the direct observation of their urine collection. Unfortunately, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies only to the laws and actions of the federal and provincial governments and their agencies. It does not apply to the policies and actions of private employers. The Charter therefore does not protect private sector employees from unreasonable drug testing. It is necessary to state that currently an employer can terminate an employee\'s job if the employee has been using illegal drugs and alcohol, but only if such use is not considered a disability. Alcohol or drug addiction can be viewed as a physical and/or mental disability. In Ontario, the Ontario Human Rights, Citizenship, and Multiculturalism Act prohibit employment discrimination based on disability. Employers have a responsibility to accommodate employees who are disabled. Drug testing has not been proven to be against the Canadian Human Rights Commission. "In order to institute a drug testing policy into a company which complies with human rights legislation, an employer must be able to demonstrate that the testing is related to job performance, and not just substance abuse." Many employees feel that drug testing is a way of discriminating against people who might have a drug and/or alcohol disability. An example of such discrimination is found in Entrop v. Imperial Oil Ltd. The Ontario Board of Inquiry found that Imperial Oil Limited discriminated against Martin Entrop, a senior operator at the Sarnia Refinery, because of a disability. The Board of Inquiry found that "under a new Alcohol and Drug Policy introduce in 1992, Imperial Oil employees in "safety-sensitive" positions were required to notify management if they currently had or had previously had a substance abuse problem." After Mr.Entrop heard that this policy was coming into effect he informed his employer that he had had an alcohol problem about ten years earlier, that he had attended Alcoholics Anonymous, and that he had abstained from using alcohol since 1984. Mr. Entrop had been an employee for seventeen years and he had had no problems at work that were related to substance abuse, but Imperial Oil\'s policy required that Mr.Entrop be immediately removed form his current position. This example clearly shows that it is discriminatory to terminate a person\'s job because of a past or present disability and that there are constitutional matters involved with drug