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Random testing legislation needed: TTC

Concerns growing with expected legalization of marijuana
Powered By Canadian HR ReporterWorkplace - HR Policies||Written By Marcel Vander Wier
Random testing legislation needed: TTC
The TTC has had a Fitness for Duty policy in place since 2010, put in place following the death of a maintenance worker in 2007. Credit: chrisdonaldsonmedia /

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 said.

New hires turn in the highest number of positive results, said MacRae. “People don’t understand in some cases that it is actually not yet legal.”

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.”

Promoting safety

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 promote safety.”

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 up.”

“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.”