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Can an employer make me take a drug or alcohol test?

Usually, the answer is no.

Ontario's human rights laws make it difficult for employers to force workers to get tested to show if they used drugs or alcohol at work or before coming to work.

An employer is not supposed to test workers just to find out if they've used drugs or alcohol. There has to be a connection between the testing and making sure that people are doing their jobs properly and safely.

Even if the type of work might be dangerous, this isn't a good enough reason. For example, employers can't force workers to do a drug or alcohol test only because they use machinery or equipment that can cause injuries.

It would be very unusual for an employer to have a good enough reason to make you take a drug or alcohol test when you apply for a job.

When your employer might be able to ask for tests

If there have been a lot of problems caused by workers using drugs or alcohol at work, the employer might be able to say workers must get tested. This is very unusual.

Other reasons that your employer might be allowed to test you:

  • they have what the law calls "reasonable cause" to believe you have come to work impaired by drugs or alcohol
  • you've been involved in a workplace accident
  • you're returning to your job after getting treated for abusing drugs or alcohol

But your employer still has to show that there's a connection between the testing and you being able to do your job properly and safely.

If you've had problems with drugs or alcohol

Human rights laws say that an employer is not allowed to discriminate against you because of a disability. This means that an employer can't discriminate against you because:

  • you have now or used to have an addiction or dependence on drugs or alcohol
  • they think you have an addiction or dependence on drugs or alcohol

If an employer asks you to take a drug or alcohol test, they might be discriminating against you because of a disability. If this applies to you, see Step 2 below.

If an employer fires you or takes other steps against you because of the results of a drug or alcohol test, this might also go against your human rights. To find out more about making a human rights claim, see Step 3 below.

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Next Steps: 

1. Find out if Ontario's laws apply

Most employers in Ontario must follow the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario deals with claims against these employers.

If you think that your employer has discriminated against you because of an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you may be able to make a claim at the Tribunal. If you were fired, you might also be able to sue your employer in court.

But some industries are covered by federal laws. These are laws made by the Government of Canada and they apply throughout the country. These industries include banks, airlines, some trucking businesses, and broadcasting. The Government of Canada website has a more complete list.

Employers in these industries must follow the Canada Labour Code. The Canadian Human Rights Commission deals with complaints against these employers.

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2. Decide what to do if your employer asks you to get tested

If your employer asks you to do a drug or alcohol test, you may want to ask:

  • why they want you to do this
  • whether other workers are also being told to do a test

If you have a union, talk to your union representative. There might be rules in your collective agreement about when your employer can ask you to take a test.

If you think that having to take the test goes against your rights, you'll have to decide what to do.

If you refuse to take the test, your employer might fire you or punish you in some other way. But the same thing might happen if you take the test and it shows use of drugs or alcohol.

You may want to get legal advice. Your employer might be going against your human rights.

One place to get free legal advice and information is the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.

The Centre can help you decide what to do. They also help people apply to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and, in some cases, at the Tribunal.

You can also check out the Centre's online tool Can We Help You? to see if you might be able to make a claim.

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3. Learn more about making a human rights claim

If you think an employer has discriminated against you, you can apply to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

The Tribunal can decide if an employer has discriminated against you for a reason that goes against your human rights. You start the process by making an application to the Tribunal.

What the Tribunal can do

If the Tribunal decides that the employer discriminated against you, there are things the Tribunal can order the employer to do.

For example, the Tribunal can order the employer to:

  • pay you money
  • give you your job back
  • change its practices so they follow human rights laws

But they rarely order an employer to give you back your job.

You can ask for money to cover costs that you had or to replace money that you were forced to spend because of what the employer did.

You can also ask for money because of how the employer's actions affected you. When an employer does not respect your human rights, this can hurt you. The Tribunal can order the employer to pay you money for the hurt they caused you. You don't have to show that their actions cost you money.

What to say in your application

In your application, you say:

  • what happened
  • why you think what the employer did goes against your human rights

For example, an employer's decision might be against human rights laws if you've had problems with drugs or alcohol and they:

  • ask you to take a drug or alcohol test
  • punish or fire you for refusing to take a drug or alcohol test
  • punish or fire you because of the results of a drug or alcohol test

Time limits

The deadline to apply to the Tribunal is one year from the date you were discriminated against.

If you miss the deadline, you can still apply. But in your application, you need to explain why you're applying late. If you have a good reason, for example, you couldn't apply because you were in the hospital, the Tribunal can decide to let you apply late.

Learn more about applying to the Tribunal in How to complete an Application form to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

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Reviewed: 
September, 2015

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