An employee’s right to ensure workplace safety versus an employee’s right to privacy, have been competing rights present in the workplace for many years. In Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, Local 30 v. Irving Pulp & Paper Limited, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) recently weighed in on how to balance these rights in the context of an employer implementing a drug and alcohol testing policy. In this case, a majority of the SCC favoured employees’ privacy rights. Key in the majority’s decision was that the employer could not demonstrate the necessary safety concerns to justify the random alcohol testing component of its policy made on employee privacy. As such, the testing was found to be unlawful. While Irving does not produce an ideal result for employers who understandably see the safety and deterrence benefits that random alcohol testing provides, it is important to stress that Canada’s highest court has not prohibited such testing in its entirety. Rather, employers with dangerous operations who wish to unilaterally impose such a policy must adequately justify and substantiate the policy’s reasonableness through verifiable evidence that the workplace in question has problems with alcohol use.

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