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Random Alcohol Testing Case Headed for Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court of Canada will decide whether an employer must have “reasonable cause” to conduct random alcohol testing on unionized employees, or whether an inherently dangerous workplace is sufficient to justify random alcohol testing.

In the case, a unionized Irving Pulp and Paper employee, who occupied a safety sensitive position, was randomly tested for alcohol using a breathalyser.  The test revealed a blood alcohol level of zero. Nevertheless, the union filed a policy grievance challenging the provision of the policy that permitted random alcohol testing “without cause”.

The New Brunswick Court of Appeal decided that Irving’s kraft paper mill was an inherently dangerous workplace, and that Irving did not have to prove that there was an existing alcohol problem in the workplace in order to conduct random alcohol testing.

The union has appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.  The SCC’s decision will be of interest to employers across Canada. 

The New Brunswick Court of Appeal’s decision may be accessed at: http://canlii.ca/en/nb/nbca/doc/2011/2011nbca58/2011nbca58.html