The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has no plans to alter its
recruitment process — which includes drug testing for new hires — even
after marijuana becomes legal in Canada this summer.
“Safety outweighs any perception of a privacy concern,” said Meghan
MacRae, director of employee relations at the TTC. “I know that may not
be popular, but… at a certain point, the safety of the collective needs
to outweigh perception of the individual privacy concern.”
“For those who are of the view that random testing does not deter
behaviour or promote safety in the workplace, from the bottom of my
heart, I respectfully disagree,” she said.
Canada is expected to legalize recreational marijuana usage this
summer, so employers are working to update policy to reflect the change.
And with legalization on the horizon, concerns with the lack of
legislation surrounding drug testing are growing, said MacRae.
“I want to be very clear,” she said. “The TTC is not taking any view
on the legalization of marijuana. Our interest and our focus is on
safety in the workplace… We need legislation.”
“There’s things happening at a breakneck pace sometimes... it’s really hard to follow unless you’re fully immersed in it.”
Fitness for duty
As the third-largest public transit authority in North America, the TTC employs 14,500 workers in a unionized environment.
The TTC has had a Fitness for Duty policy in place since 2010, said
MacRae, speaking in Toronto this month at a Marijuana at Work event,
hosted by the Conference Board of Canada.
The programming was put in place following the death of a TTC
maintenance worker in 2007. After an investigation and review, the
deceased worker was found to have been under the influence of marijuana
at the time of the accident, she said.
Following a union grievance and implementation delays, the
organization’s random testing program finally launched in May 2017. From
that point until early February, TTC employees incurred 36
non-compliant results — 16 of which were the result of marijuana — with
positive tests representing roughly two per cent of total tests, she
New hires turn in the highest number of positive results, said
MacRae. “People don’t understand in some cases that it is actually not
It’s not just safety-sensitive workers who are tested, but anyone
with an influence over safety. Cases are assessed individually, with the
TTC taking into account medical marijuana needs and balancing
individual rights with collective safety, she said.
In ensuring all workers are fit for duty, the agency conducts oral
fluid testing for post-incident and reasonable cause scenarios, said
MacRae. Testing around certification, new hires and post-treatment are
conducted via urinalysis — with the goal being abstinence.
Random testing is conducted using oral fluid technology — essentially
using an oversized Q-Tip — with swabs going through two rounds of
laboratory testing, according to MacRae.
“Based on our expert evidence, you can detect recent use sufficient to demonstrate likely impairment.”
Rather than existing as a “gotcha” policy, random testing serves as a
mechanism to enhance safety and encourage workers to disclose usage in
an effort to prevent tragedy, she said.
“There are a lot of circumstances that need to be met and it’s not a
one-shot-fix-all. You need to consider the nature of your industry, but
particularly in safety-sensitive industry, there is a lot of opportunity
to do so.”
Organizations that choose to implement random testing need to have
support mechanisms in place to allow employees to come forward in
dignity and confidentiality, and determine if accommodation is
appropriate, said MacRae.
“You really need to create that safe environment. That’s what random
testing is — it’s part of a comprehensive workplace program designed to
At this point, alcohol remains much easier to detect than drugs, she said.
“You don’t know who is using, who may be impaired, who may be
suffering (with drugs). We really need to come together as employers and
ensure we’ve got the support, education, training and tools to back it
“There’s a sense that nothing’s changing. Well, things are changing,”
said MacRae. “We need to be equipped to manage safety… It is my sincere
hope that we can get to a point where we can take some proactive
measures before a tragedy causes us to do so.”