07/27/2016 04:49 EDT | Updated 07/27/2016 04:59 EDT

There's A Good Reason Employers Require Drug And Alcohol Testing

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vial with medical drugs

On June 14, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that random testing in the workplace for drugs and alcohol is a violation of an employee's right to privacy. Deeming such a practice as "an unjustified affront to the dignity and privacy of employees," the judges voted six to three in favour of worker privacy over occupational safety. Taking the "random" out of the equation, however, still leaves companies and organizations the right to administer drug tests to prospective personnel and those on staff who may give reason to suspect drug use.

In Alberta, many of the oil patch companies have taken full advantage of this right by testing oil workers (and even contractors) for drugs such as cocaine and marijuana on a regular basis.

All of this begs the question: why do employers require drug and alcohol testing in the first place?

Occupational Safety

Depending on the job performed, impairment from alcohol or drugs can pose grave danger to employee and co-workers. Consulting with the Canadian and Ontario Human Rights Commissions, Fasken Martineau, a Toronto business law and litigation firm, determined that there are positions which are safety sensitive and -- if conducted while under the influence -- can "result in direct and significant risk of injury to the employee, others or the environment." Machine operation, driving and chemical engineering are examples of such occupations. While a drug test may not discern the degree of impairment, it will nevertheless demonstrate whether the loss of faculties is more or less likely.

Cost of Doing Business

The fact remains that insurance companies, namely workers' compensation providers, feel better about issuing coverage for a drug-free workforce. In fact, many of them will reduce the premiums for firms that can offer assurances in that regard. At the same time, the insurer can withhold paying out on a workers' comp claim if the injured party is shown -- after the accident -- to have alcohol or illegal substances in the bloodstream. It benefits businesses' bottom lines, then, to make every effort to ensure that their people are both clean and sober. Paying a modest amount for testing precludes a larger amount to retain an insurance policy.

Limiting Legal Exposure

In the same vein, testing mitigates legal liability in the event of an accident. Should an impaired individual cause an accident that brings harm to other workers, they may bring a suit against the employer for damages. Drug and alcohol tests lessen that contingency. Likewise, the presence of employees with diminished capacity could violate workplace safety laws even if no related incident occurs. Again, a testing protocol serves to ward off expensive fines and penalties imposed by regulators.

Productivity and Performance

Abuse of drugs and alcohol takes a toll on individual productivity and on the organization's output in general. In addition to more frequent accidents and compensation claims, affected individuals are also shown to be three times more likely to be late for work. Chemical substances can cloud the judgment and make concentration more difficult. They can also loosen inhibitions and make for uncomfortable and difficult relationships with colleagues.

It goes without saying that the more time an employee must spend with human resources, the less time spent on the job. Drug and alcohol testing aims to maximize performance and minimize liability.

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