What you need to know about drug testing Canadian drivers
September 1, 2006
NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. - Canadian carriers have very little direction from government when it comes to drug and alcohol testing for drivers, but that doesn't mean employers can't implement and enfo...
NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. – Canadian carriers have very little direction from government when it comes to drug and alcohol testing for drivers, but that doesn’t mean employers can’t implement and enforce a drug and alcohol policy.
That was the message at a recent seminar at the Private Motor Truck Council (PMTC) of Canada annual conference.
While the US has had a mutli-agency coordinated strategy since the War on Drugs was launched in the 1980s, the Canadian government has yet to follow in its footsteps. Legislation tabled by the short-lived Kim Campbell government in Canada was scrapped following her government’s demise and nobody has yet picked up the reins.
But that doesn’t mean Canadian carriers can’t conduct drug and alcohol testing on their drivers, said Barb Butler, president of Barbara Butler and Associates. However, she warned fleet managers to “make sure you do it right or don’t even bother.”
Canadian fleets have been required to drug test drivers operating in the US since 1996, following US DoT guidelines. While Barry Kurtzer, chief medical review officer with DriverCheck, says a separate policy is required for drivers who don’t enter the US, there are still ways employers can subject them to drug testing.
“You, as employers, are saddled with the responsibility to make sure your workplaces are safe,” he told delegates at the PMTC conference.
However, he admitted it’s a bit trickier for domestic Canadian truckers. While drug testing in the US is exempt from US privacy legislation, that’s not the case in Canada where the procedure is still viewed as a medical process. Here in Canada, Kurtzer said a zero tolerance policy is “dangerous,” because employers are expected to be more accommodating.
Still, he stressed “Many companies in Canada have developed successful policies which minimize the risk of getting in trouble.”
One option carriers may want to explore is to involve a third party testing agency such as DriverCheck to help develop a policy and conduct testing, Kurtzer suggested. Doing so allows carriers to avoid the many pitfalls that can stand in the way of implementing a drug testing policy and keep the company out of court.
Not everyone knows, for instance, that in Canada an employer must offer an individual the job before conducting a drug test and the test must be conducted within close proximity to on-duty time.
There are other mistakes commonly made by Canadian fleets, Kurtzer said. They include:
* Not understanding the rules;
* Not knowing the company’s own policy;
* Using a policy template without customizing it;
* Failing to educate employees about the policy;
* Not getting sign-back forms filled out by drivers, ensuring they have read and understand the policy;
* Not separating US drivers from domestic drivers;
* Allowing new drivers to get behind the wheel before their pre-employment test results are returned;
* Not treating all drivers the same;
* And using an unqualified third party provider.
“Even if you use a service provider, you’re still responsible,” Kurtzer warned.
Butler said that while unions may challenge the implementation of a drug testing policy, “We don’t need proof of a problem before taking proactive steps to ensure public safety.”
She said marijuana and cocaine use has doubled over the past 10 years and about 14% of Canadians currently smoke pot. That alone could be reason enough to implement a drug testing policy.
If, however, a driver tests positive, it becomes crucial that the employer goes to great lengths to accommodate them.
“Drug or alcohol dependency is considered a disability and human rights legislation in Canada prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability,” Butler pointed out, adding casual use is not considered a disability.
If a driver who fails a test admits to having a drug or alcohol problem, it’s the carrier’s responsibility to accommodate them, stressed Butler. That’s where a substance abuse professional (SAP) comes into play.
An SAP’s job is to determine whether the employee has a problem and then to recommend solutions.
While implementing a drug testing policy for domestic drivers may seem like an onerous task, Butler stresses it is possible.
“Testing has been upheld in Canada and we’re getting a better idea of what we can and can’t do,” she said. “The legal direction on testing is still developing, but it seems to be acceptable if done properly.”
For more information about US DoT testing rules (which can be used as a guideline in Canada), visit www.dot.gov/ost/dapc.