Breach of drug and alcohol policy

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Breach of drug and alcohol policy

An employee was dismissed for breaching the employer’s strict drug and alcohol policy and failing to adhere to the occupational health and safety policy.

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An employee was dismissed for breaching the employer’s strict drug and alcohol policy and failing to adhere to the occupational health and safety policy. The employer conducted a detailed investigation into the allegation of gross misconduct which included giving the employee an opportunity to respond.

The employee worked as a Machine Operator for the employer and was dismissed on 15 May 1997 for allegedly smoking marijuana on the premises. The employee had been employed for nearly seven years at the time of the dismissal and was aware that the employer had a strict drug and alcohol policy, the breach of which would result in dismissal (Stewart v CS Brooks Canada Inc; Print P7681, [1997] 1753 IRCommA).

It was acknowledged that the reason the policy was so strict was that the work environment was hazardous. The policy stated that "[b]ecause of the possible danger, employees MUST not report to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs - or consume such substances on Company premises."

The allegation came about after the employee had been observed looking perfectly well on the morning of 13 May 1997 and then later that day after an absence from his work station on the afternoon of 13 May 1997 he was observed looking pale, his movements were slow and it was claimed his eyes were red and puffy. Some witnesses also claimed that the employee’s speech was slurred.

The employer conducted an investigation into the matter and provided the employee with an opportunity to respond to the allegations. The employee was later dismissed for gross misconduct.

The employee denied that he ever smoked marijuana on the premises although he was a recreational user of the drug. Also, the employer was unable to produce any evidence stating that the employee smoked the drug on the premises but instead relied on a series of observations to support the claim.

As part of the employer’s investigation into the conduct, a urine sample was taken from the employee which showed marijuana to be present although it was conceded that cannabis can last in the body for up to a week. The employee admitted to smoking marijuana the night before, only seven hours prior to commencing his shift.

The Commission found that there was no positive proof that the employee smoked marijuana at work on the day in question, however, it was found that the evidence taken as a whole was "sufficient to form in the mind of a reasonable person belief that he had."

The Commission also stated that:

"There is no doubt the environment in which the [employee] worked was potentially hazardous and the employer has every right to take the view that this behaviour by itself was irresponsible and would place the employee in breach of its drug and safety procedures."

The Commission found that the employer had a valid reason for dismissal and that the employee was afforded procedural fairness. The dismissal was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable.

 

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