Can my organization implement a drug testing policy at the workplace?

Jul 24, 2017

If you’ve been following the news over the last few months, you know that the Ontario Superior Court of Justice refused to allow the union’s injunction against the TTC’s random drug and alcohol testing policy. More recently, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the termination of an employee who was terminated for violating his employer’s drug testing policy. These developments have led to us answering many questions from employers (and news publications) about whether they can also test their employees for drugs and alcohol.

Despite the TTC’s success at court, employers should proceed with caution when instituting drug and alcohol testing at the workplace. Firstly, the issue before the court was not whether such a policy was discriminatory. Secondly, the court refused the union’s injunction because of both the safety-sensitive industry and the wide area in which the TTC operates. Furthermore, the caselaw preceding the TTC decision shows that there is a high evidentiary burden an employer must satisfy to justify random drug testing its employees.

Because addictions to drugs or alcohol are considered “disabilities” under the Ontario Human Rights Code, drug and alcohol testing has human rights implications for people with addictions. For example, a human rights issue may arise where a positive test leads to automatic negative consequences for a person based on an addiction.

However, courts and tribunals recognise that it is a legitimate goal for employers to have a safe workplace, particularly in safety-sensitive industries. Therefore, there is caselaw that has recognised that a drug testing policy is justifiable if an employer can show that the policy is a bona fide (i.e. legitimate) requirement of the job. However, even if the policy is a legitimate requirement, employers should strive to minimise any potential discriminatory impact, and be prepared to accommodate employees with addictions who are negatively impacted by the policy.

Another requirement for a drug and alcohol testing policy to be found justifiable is that it must measure impairment, as opposed to drug or alcohol use. For example, while alcohol testing is able to measure a person’s impairment quite accurately, because drugs can remain in a person’s system for quite some time after their use, drug testing is less accurate at measuring impairment rather than drug use. For this reason, alcohol testing tends to be more permissible than drug testing. Similarly, testing after an accident or a “near-miss” is more justifiable than random testing.

Lessons to be Learned

As we get closer to marijuana being legal in Canada, questions around workplace safety and the permissibility of drug testing are bound to increase. We will continue to publish additional information as more relevant cases are released. In the meantime, if you are considering implementing a drug and alcohol testing policy at the workplace, you should consult an employment lawyer to find out whether such a policy would survive the scrutiny of a court or tribunal.

There are many ways to attack the termination clause in an employment contract. 

I am now surprised if employee counsel does not claim that their client’s  termination clause is not legally enforceable - usually because the termination clause does not allegedly comply with the Employment Standards Act.

This blog considers a case, McKercher v Stantec Architecture Ltd., 2019 SKQB 100, where an employee successfully attacked the termination clause in his contract because he did not explicitly agree to it after being promoted. 

The Facts

In 2006, Mr. McKercher commenced employment as a staff architect. The termination clause in his employment contract stated: 

Termination other than for cause will be with notice or pay in lieu of notice, based on your length of service. If the Employer terminates your employment for other than just cause you will receive the greater of:

  1. a)   Two weeks notice or pay in lieu of notice during the first two years of employment increasing by one week for each additional completed year of employment to a maximum of three months notice or pay in lieu of notice.


  1. b)   The minimum notice of termination (or pay in lieu of notice) required by applicable statutes.

Eleven years later, when Mr. McKercher was employed as a Business Centre Sector Leader, his employment was terminated. The employer paid him the three months termination pay he was owed under his employment contract.


Another way to attack a termination clause: What is the changed substratum doctrine?

An Ontario judge in a 2012 case, MacGregor v National Home Services, 2012 ONSC 2042 (CanLII), described this legal doctrine as follows: "The changed substratum doctrine … provides that if an employee enters into an employment contract that specifies the notice period for a dismissal, the contractual notice period is not enforceable if over the course of employment, the important terms of the agreement concerning the employee’s responsibilities and status has significantly changed."


The rationale for this doctrine has been described by one judge, Schmidt v AMEC Earth & Environmental Ltd., 2004 BSCS 2012 (CanLII), as follows: "In my view, it was incumbent on the defendants to advise Mr. Schmidt that they intended to continue to rely upon the termination provision set out in the Agreement when substantial changes in his employment occurred. This would have allowed him to consider the matter and to negotiate for other terms. If the defendants wished to continue to rely on the termination provisions there ought to have been a ratification of the provisions as the nature of Mr. Schmidt’s employment changed."



The judge hearing this case relied on the following factors when deciding not to enforce the termination clause in the employment contract: ”...there is no evidence that (the employer) made it clear to the (employee) that the notice of termination provisions were intended to apply to the positions to which he was promoted. The employment agreement contains no express wording to this effect, nor does it contain any wording to support the inference of such an intent. Further, and in keeping with the analysis in Schmidt, the Court received no evidence that, as it promoted the plaintiff, SAL reasserted its understanding and expectation that the notice of termination limit would remain in effect.”


Lesson to be learned:

An employer should make it clear that the termination clause in an employment contract applies when an employee is promoted. This expression of this intent should be in writing and should be clear and unambiguous. I recommend that an organization’s employment be reviewed by an employment lawyer every year or two. If your employment contract does not address this issue then think about doing so the next time it is reviewed.


For 30 years, Doug MacLeod of   the MacLeod Law Firm has been advising employers on all aspects of the employment relationship. If you have any questions, you can contact him at 416 317-9894 or at [email protected]

The material and information in this blog and this website are for general information only. They should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information referred to in this blog or its links. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog. Readers should obtain appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.



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