CCLA celebrates win for employee privacy at Supreme Court

July 14, 2013

The CCLA is extremely pleased with the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, Local 30 v. Irving Pulp and Paper, a case that examined whether employers can impose random breathalyzer testing in unionized workplaces. The majority of the Supreme Court affirmed that mandatory, random and unannounced substance testing for all employees is an unjustified affront to the dignity and privacy of employees unless there is reasonable cause, such as a general problem of substance abuse in the workplace. Even when a workplace is ‘dangerous’ due to the type of jobs being performed, that is just the beginning of the inquiry – substantial intrusions into employees’ privacy must still be balanced against the safety gains the employer can reasonably show to result from the proposed police.

The CCLA argued that breathalyzer testing is a privacy invasion and that employers should not be able to unilaterally intrude into employees’ privacy based only on theoretical risks to safety. The decision of the Court aligns with the CCLA’s position that employers must prove that the benefits of random, mandatory substance testing in the workplace are proportionate to the negative effects of substance testing on employee privacy. The Court upheld the decision of the board of labour arbitrators, which struck down Irving Pulp and Paper’s random alcohol testing program because the employer had not established any significant degree of incremental safety risk attributable to employee alcohol use.

The CCLA is particularly pleased that the Court recognized that all forms of coercive bodily testing invade individual privacy and dignity. The Court affirmed that the seizure of bodily samples – whether the goal is to search for drugs or alcohol use – is always highly intrusive and must meet stringent standards and safeguards to satisfy constitutional requirements.

To read CCLA’s factum in the case, click here.

To read the full Supreme Court decision, click here.