In the spring of 2017, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) was finally successful in implementing random drug and alcohol testing for its employees. This initiative came into play as a result of a six year process of protracted labour relations and legal wrangling over the implementation of a fitness for duty policy that seeks to improve workplace safety.
It is not surprising that the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, or any union, would be opposed to the implementation of random drug and/or alcohol testing in the workplace. In Canada, as employees, we generally enjoy a certain level of personal privacy and restrictions on potentially invasive procedures in the workplace. Any worker would expect to have these restrictions and rights reinforced by their union that fought hard and won these work related rights years ago.
In this case, however, the potential safety rights of the public seem to have provided a tipping point that moved this case out of the courts and into the public domain. Once implemented, the TTC’s drug and alcohol testing program provided immediate results. On the first day of random testing, two workers were found to be impaired and on the job, which would seem to justify the need for the program from the perspective of customer and public safety. As the program has continued, the findings of employees testing positive for drug and/or alcohol use have also continued. Most recently, a vehicle operator failed the drug test, raising the safety concerns again for both the workplace and for the public who find themselves potentially at risk as a result of an individual’s alleged actions.
The process that is described in the media focuses on the key messages of employee disciplinary action in order to ensure public safety. Of course, as members of the public, we need to be assured that no-one is put in harm’s way when using public transit.
As Human Resources practitioners, however, we know that these matters are not so simple. In this puzzle over whose rights must be protected, where does the duty to accommodate come into play? Does the need to ensure public safety override the employer’s obligations under the human rights code? Does a failed drug test mean the end of employment for any employee?
Each of these questions needs a thoughtful response from a Human Resources perspective. Hopefully, you will have had lots of time to think about them the next time you exit safely from that bus.
- From an HR perspective, what issues come to mind for you as you read and watch the news articles linked to drug testing at the TTC?
- Are these issues different from your perspective as a customer of public transit?
- If you worked at the TTC as an HR practitioner and were selected to be tested for drug and alcohol use, how would you respond?