Supreme Court upholds dismissal of employee addicted to cocaine

Top court deems human rights tribunal`s finding that worker`s addiction wasn`t a factor in dismissal reasonable
By Norm Keith
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 07/19/2017

In perhaps the most important human rights decision to date dealing with drugs in the workplace, the Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled that an employer may terminate a worker for just cause when he violated a fitness for duty policy by attending work under the influence of drugs. The Supreme Court ultimately upheld the ruling of the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal that the employer did not unlawfully discriminate when a worker was terminated.

Ian Stewart worked in a mine operated by the Elk Valley Coal Corporation near the Cardinal River in Alberta, driving a loader. The mine operations were dangerous, and maintaining a safe worksite was a matter of great importance to Elk Valley and its employees. To ensure safety, the company implemented a policy requiring that employees disclose any dependence or addiction issues before any drug-related incident occurred. If they did, they would be offered treatment. However, if they failed to disclose and tested positive for drugs after a workplace incident, they would be at risk of having their employment terminated.

Stewart used cocaine on his days off. He did not tell his employer that he was using drugs. When his loader was involved in a workplace accident, he tested positive for cocaine and later said, after talking to his union, that he thought he was addicted to the drug. Elk Valley terminated his employment and Stewart argued that he was terminated for addiction, constituting discrimination under the Alberta Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act.