A recent arbitration decision has confirmed that an employer may require employees to undergo testing for impairment where it is reasonably necessary to ensure the safety of workers.
The decision involved a dockworker whose job duties required the use of heavy machinery. Although he was a thirty year employee with no history of discipline, the employer became concerned about his deteriorating attendance and erratic behaviour. When the grievor arrived at work smelling of alcohol, the employer asked him to take a breathalyser test. He refused and was suspended in accordance with the employer’s drug and alcohol policy. The employer then told the grievor that he was required to attend a substance abuse professional for a dependency assessment prior to any return to work.
The arbitrator found that, in a safety sensitive work environment, the strong smell of alcohol was reasonable cause for the employer to request a breathalyser test. The grievor’s recent behaviour also provided a reasonable basis to hold him out of service until a dependency assessment was conducted. Without knowing whether the grievor suffered from an addiction, the employer was unable to properly address its concerns. As a result, the grievance was dismissed.
This decision will be of interest to employers who monitor and assess substance abuse issues in safety-sensitive work environments.