Friday, September 28, 2018

Labour & Pop Culture: Office Drug Testing

This week’s installment of Labour & Pop Culture revisits The Office to look at how employers handle drug use in the workplace. This skit is relevant given that, on October 17, cannabis consumption in Alberta (and elsewhere in Canada) will become legal (with some, still emerging, restrictions).

Alberta’s framework for regulating cannabis use is available online and includes a brief (and vague) discussion of cannabis use by workers:
Impairment in workplaces
Workers who are impaired on the job – whether by alcohol or drugs – are a danger to their coworkers and themselves. Alberta already has rules and programs in place to address impairment on the job and keep workers safe, but we are exploring options to better address all forms of impairment in the workplace, and will continue to work with employers, labour groups and workers to ensure the rules continue to address impairment issues. This may include developing additional regulations, education or training programs.
Employer efforts to randomly test workers for drug use and/or impairment have been a long-standing source of conflict in Alberta. For example, Suncor’s decision to randomly test workers has yielded an extensive amount of litigation since 2012 and the issue remains before an arbitration panel. An overview of this litigation can be found here.

Drug testing entails serious and competing interests. It is often framed as a contest between workers’ right to privacy and employers’ obligation to keep workplaces safe (although the evidence that random testing has any safety effect is basically zero).

The debate about drug testing is often tinged with an underlying moral judgment. It goes something like this: since drug use is illegal, workers who use drugs (on their own time) deserve to experience the workplace consequences associated with testing because they are criminals.

This dynamic is, in part, the premise of the joke in The Office skit above. The legalization of cannabis use undercuts this moralizing and it will be interesting to see how employers handle this change in the law.

-- Bob Barnetson

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