Legal News

Pre-Employment Drug Screening Upheld in Alberta Oil Patch

In its much-anticipated decision in Chiasson v. Kellogg Brown & Root, the Alberta Court of Appeal recently endorsed pre-employment alcohol and drug screening in the oil patch.

Mr. Chiasson was hired in 2002 by Kellogg Brown & Root, a construction company involved in expansion of the Syncrude Plant in Fort McMurray, on the condition that he pass a pre-employment drug and alcohol test. When his test revealed traces of cannabis in his system, he admitted to the Employer that he used marijuana recreationally and that he had smoked marijuana five days before the test. Due to the safety-sensitive nature of its operations, and pursuant to its policy, the Employer terminated Mr. Chiasson’s employment.

The Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission dismissed Mr. Chiasson’s complaint, finding that he did not suffer from an addiction and could not, therefore, have been discriminated against on the basis of a disability. The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench reversed that decision, finding that the Employer terminated Mr. Chiasson’s employment based on a perception that he was suffering from drug addiction, and that reliance on that perception constituted discrimination.

The Alberta Court of Appeal unanimously reversed the trial court’s decision, concluding that because Mr. Chiasson described himself as a recreational user of marijuana, he did not suffer from a drug addiction and the Employer did not perceive him as suffering from a drug addiction. Rather, the Employer dismissed him based on a legitimate perception that a person who uses drugs at all is a safety risk on an already hazardous worksite. The effects of casual use of cannabis sometimes linger for days, the Court said, and some of those effects raise concerns about the user’s ability to function safely in a safety challenged environment. In the Court’s view, the Employer’s policy was no different from a policy that drivers refrain from using alcohol for some time before driving an employer’s vehicle.

This decision reaches a different conclusion than the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision in Entrop v. Imperial Oil Ltd., and provides important support for the implementation of drug and alcohol testing in safety-sensitive industries.

(Click here for link to Decision)