Metro Morning

Workplace drug and alcohol testing needs 'checks and balances,' commissioner says after TTC plan

Random drug and alcohol testing in the workplace, such as the program that the Toronto Transit Commission is preparing to implement, must have “a lot of checks and balances” for it to comply with the Ontario Human Rights Code, says the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

TTC board has approved funding for random testing program first developed in 2011

The chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission says random workplace drug and alcohol testing must only apply to positions where there may be concerns about health and safety. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Random drug and alcohol testing in the workplace, such as the program that the Toronto Transit Commission is preparing to implement, must have "a lot of checks and balances" for it to comply with the Ontario Human Rights Code, says the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

On Tuesday, TTC CEO Andy Byford sent a memo to employees saying the board had approved funding for the random drug and alcohol testing program, which was first approved in 2011.

Program details will be finalized over the next few months.

In an interview with CBC's Metro Morning, chief commissioner Renu Mendhane would not speak about the TTC program specifically, saying there are too many details that have yet to be released.

In general, Ontario's human rights code does allow for random workplace drug and alcohol tests, according to Mendhane. However, "that kind of testing must be non-discriminatory, and there are a lot of checks and balances that have to be in place," she said Wednesday.

Such tests should narrowly apply to "safety-sensitive positions," she said, including driving a bus, performing track-level maintenance, or operating heavy machinery. The tests must also measure current impairment, so tests cannot be administered days before a worker will be performing a safety-related task.

"I think we can all agree that if you're driving a bus, if you're operating heavy machinery, if you're working at track level, those are safety-sensitive positions and there might be a legitimate need to test individuals," Mendhane said.

A comprehensive program also has to include ways to determine whether an employee has an addiction, which then must be accommodated, Mendhane said.

"That doesn't mean that they should be allowed to drive the bus or operate the heavy machinery," she said.

"But it does mean that you have to put in place supports so that they can either receive time off to attend rehabilitative therapy, or there's some sort of support for them should they need support in order to not be impaired on the job."

Random drug and alcohol testing that's not related to addressing workplace safety "is likely a violation of the code," Mendhane said.

Safety 'is paramount'

In his memo, Byford clarified  that the random testing would only look for impairment while the employee is at work.

"What you do on your own time is none of our business so long as it doesn't affect your ability to do your job. What you do at work however is very much our business," the memo says.

"Your safety, your co-workers' safety, the safety of our customers and all road users is paramount."

The union representing TTC workers opposes all drug testing, and had, until now, successfully blocked random testing during ongoing arbitration talks with management. Tests could only be conducted on an employee who they have reasonable cause to believe is impaired at work.

"The reality is this policy doesn't work," said union president Bob Kinnear.

"All it does is invade people's privacy and we are against it."

In 2014, there were 15 total incidents of TTC impairment or refusal by an employee to take a test. In 2015, that number went up to 57, according to TTC spokesperson Brad Ross. In the first three months of 2016, there were 28 incidents. 

"We came back to our board, because we are seeing the number of incidents rise," said Ross.

An outside company will be brought in to do the testing.

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