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Policy on drug and alcohol testing

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Revised version approved by the OHRC: September 27, 2000
(Please note: minor revisions were made in December 2009 to address legislative amendments resulting from the Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2006, which came into effect on June 30, 2008.)

Available in other accessible formats on request


The Code states that it is public policy in Ontario to recognize the inherent dignity and worth of every person and to provide for equal rights and opportunities without discrimination. The provisions of the Code are aimed at creating a climate of understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of each person so that each person feels a part of the community and feels able to contribute to the community.

The OHRC recognizes that it is a legitimate goal for employers to have a safe workplace. One method sometimes used by employers to achieve that goal is drug and alcohol testing. However, such testing is controversial and, especially in the area of drug testing, of limited effectiveness as an indicator of impairment. It is not used to a significant degree anywhere in the world except in the United States (the “U.S.”).[1]

It is the OHRC’s view that such testing is prima facie discriminatory and can only be used in limited circumstances. The primary reason for conducting such testing should be to measure impairment.[2] Even testing that measures impairment can be justified only if it is demonstrably connected to the performance of the job; for example, if an employee occupies a safety-sensitive position, or after significant accidents or "near-misses," or if there is reasonable cause to believe that a person is abusing alcohol or drugs and only then as part of a larger assessment of drug and alcohol abuse. It is the OHRC’s view that by focusing on testing that actually measures impairment, especially in jobs that are safety sensitive, an appropriate balance can be struck between human rights and safety requirements, both for employees and for the public.

[1] See Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace, Report of the ILO Tripartite Experts Meeting (May 1993, Oslo, Norway), cited in Butler et al., The Drug Testing Controversy: Imperial Oil and Other Lessons (Carswell, Toronto: 1997) at 5.
[2] As distinct from deterrent value, for which there is no reliable study showing successful outcomes, or for the purposes of monitoring moral values among employees.


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