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Supreme Court opposes random alcohol testing in Irving case


June 17, 2013
By Pulp & Paper Canada

A court case involving random alcohol testing by Irving Pulp and Paper Ltd. has been decided by the Supreme Court. The court ruled that the policy imposed by Irving at the company’s Saint John, N.B., kraft mill in 2006 was unreasonable…

A court case involving random alcohol testing by Irving Pulp and Paper Ltd. has been decided by the Supreme Court. The court ruled that the policy imposed by Irving at the company’s Saint John, N.B., kraft mill in 2006 was unreasonable and was properly rejected by a labour arbitration board.

Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, says the decision is a victory in the battle to protect workers’ privacy rights.

“Random alcohol testing is a humiliating invasion of an individual’s privacy that has no proven impact on workplace safety,” says Coles.

According to CEP, in 2006, Irving Pulp and Paper unilaterally adopted a policy of mandatory random alcohol testing for employees in safety sensitive positions. CEP Local 30 filed a grievance challenging the policy after a worker was chosen randomly by a computer program to take a breathalyzer test. The test showed a blood alcohol level of zero but the worker said the test was humiliating and unfair.

Justice Rosalie Abella wrote for the majority: “An employer can test an individual employee if there is reasonable cause to believe that the employee was impaired while on duty, was involved in a workplace accident or incident, or was returning to work after treatment for substance abuse.

“But a unilaterally imposed policy of mandatory, random and unannounced testing for all employees in a dangerous workplace has been overwhelmingly rejected by arbitrators as an unjustified affront to the dignity and privacy of employees unless there is reasonable cause, such as a general problem of substance abuse in the workplace.”

J.D. Irving issued the following statement: “We respect the decision issued today by the Supreme Court of Canada. We will be reviewing the decision and have no further comment at this time.

“Our focus has and continues to be the safety of our co-workers and communities where we have operations.”


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