Random drug testing - Employers intoxicated by bad idea

Changing human rights legislation to allow random drug testing is shortsighted, ill-conceived and potentially dangerous, says the Alberta Federation of Labour. The AFL was responding to reports of a report, leaked to media late last week, which recommends changing human rights legislation to allow employers to impose random drug and alcohol testing in their workplaces.

"The drive to force random drug and alcohol testing is occurring without reason, thought or consideration of other options," says AFL President Kerry Barrett. "Employers have become intoxicated by the idea of a quick fix solution. I fear that the casualty in this stampede will be the basic human rights of workers."

"Human rights are not something to be thrown aside just because they happen to be 'inconvenient' for employers," says Barrett. "Last time I checked, human rights laws were in place in part to prevent employers from running roughshod over their workers."

"This issue is not about intoxication on the job. That is a clear safety hazard and needs to be opposed. This issue is about what is the most effective way to prevent it - and random testing is not it."

Barrett points out there are two issues involved with random testing. First, Canada has a well-established "Duty to Accommodate" requirement for workers with disabilities.

Addiction to alcohol or drugs is considered a disability. This means employers need to assist workers with substance abuse problems to beat their addiction - rather than just fire them. "This is the best approach - it treats workers as full human beings, not just pieces of machinery to be disposed when needing repair."

Second, all workers have a right to a degree of privacy. Employers are only allowed to know information that is directly relevant to the workplace.

"What a person does on the weekend is none of the boss's business, and they need to keep their nose out of it."

This arrangement may frustrate some employers, but that is not a good enough reason to scrap longstanding rights, says Barrett.

"Employers have failed to make the case why the current regime needs to be changed," says Barrett. "Court decisions have established a reasonable balance between the rights of workers and the need to ensure a safe workplace. No one has demonstrated how random testing will make workplaces any safer."

Barrett points out that most experts believe that random testing is an ineffective method for addressing substance use. "It has too many flaws - from false positives, to evasion methods, to inability to prove intoxication."

The current legal structure gives employers the ability to manage their workplace, and to take action against unsafe work practices. This includes intoxication. "Employers don't need more powers to address substance use, they just need to start using the powers they already have."

"The U.S. has widespread pre-employment and random testing and it has not made their workplaces safer. Why are we going down a path that has proven ineffective?" Barrett asks.

For more information call:

Kerry Barrett, AFL President   at 720-8945 (cell) or 483-3021 (wk)
Jason Foster, AFL Director of Policy Analysis at 483-3021

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