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Supreme Court Rules on Workplace Drug and Alcohol Testing

In CEP, Local 30 v Irving Pulp & Paper, Ltd a divided Supreme Court has ruled for the first time on the issue of drug and alcohol testing in unionized workplaces. The case involved a random alcohol testing policy established by Irving Pulp & Paper in the exercise of its management rights. The policy applied to employees in safety-sensitive positions in a craft paper mill that constituted an admittedly dangerous work environment. An employee selected for random alcohol testing objected and the union filed a grievance against the policy. The Supreme Court majority decision endorsed a line of arbitral case law that permits testing of employees in safety-sensitive positions in dangerous work environments for cause and, in limited circumstances, for alcohol impairment on a random basis. The majority decision emphasized that in a unionized environment, an employer must either negotiate a drug and alcohol testing policy with the union or bring any policy established as an exercise of management rights within the tests for reasonableness in the exercise of management rights set out in KVP Co. The majority concluded that if random testing imposed by an employer in a dangerous workplace “represents a proportionate response in light of both legitimate safety concerns and privacy interests, it may well be justified”.

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