Testing Times

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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.

Click here to read the court’s approval for testing as announced by the TTC.

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.

Click here to read and see news coverage on the TTC vehicle operator who failed the drug test.

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.

Discussion Questions:

  1. 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?
  2. Are these issues different from your perspective as a customer of public transit?
  3. 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?



Fraud Facts

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The management of Human Resources requires the HR practitioner to balance somewhat conflicting responsibilities. We must provide services that enhance effective, positive, pro-active employee engagement and, at the same time, ensure that all employees are compliant with organizational rules, standards and legislative requirements. Unfortunately the compliance requirements usually tip the scales into a negative perception of the Human Resources role and, sometimes, create an echoing negative response on the part of the HR practitioner.

Why? The Human Resources function often exposes the ugly side of human behaviour. We deal with people who are not at their best when they, as employees, engage in activities such as fraud or theft within the workplace. This behaviour seems particularly problematic when linked to workers’ compensation systems and the numerous parties accessing the benefits that these systems provide. Sometimes it is easy to fall into the trap of suspicion and cynicism if we start to perceive that all employees are not at their best.

Fraudulent behaviour does happen and is perpetrated by some individuals. Occupational Health and Safety lawyer, Norm Keith, explores some of the specifics related to fraudulent workers’ compensation systems behaviours on the part of some employees, some employers and some third party medical practitioners.

Click here to read the article.

Mr. Keith advocates for the development of a whistleblower reward program that would support and compensate individuals who come forward to report on those who are stealing from workers’ compensation systems. This is an interesting concept as it would allow for an increased responsibility for sharing ethical and legally compliant behaviours among all participants in a compensation system.

In the meantime this reporting responsibility continues to fall on the role of the Human Resources practitioner. We are the ones, especially if the health and safety function falls within our scope of duties, who must report and deal with the consequence of unethical and potentially fraudulent workplace behaviour. These are moral, ethical and legal obligations that deserve to be upheld in all workplaces.

At the same time we must remember that this type of behaviour is not the norm for the average employee, employer or medical practitioner. As such, we must continue to find the delicate balance within ourselves and in support of our professional roles.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Identify three ways an employee, an employer and a medical practitioner could engage in fraudulent activities through a workers’ compensation system.
  2. Defrauding a workers’ compensation system is not a ‘victimless crime.’ Who is impacted by workers’ compensation fraud?
  3. As a Human Resources professional, what steps will you take when an employee comes forward with an allegation of workers’ compensation fraud by a co-worker?