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Updated OHRC policy on drug and alcohol testing gives valuable guidance on protecting rights

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October 13, 2016

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TorontoThe OHRC today launched its updated Policy on drug and alcohol testing. This Policy offers guidance to Ontario employers and employees about drug and alcohol testing, and about the potential human rights concerns arising from testing.

The Policy lays out where testing policies and programs may discriminate and where they may be justified. It gives guidance on how to design them to respect human rights, where testing is necessary to achieve safety. It incorporates updated case law and research and it sets out user-friendly examples to advise people about their rights and help employers make informed decisions about drug and alcohol testing.

Workplace drug and alcohol testing is contentious because it reflects how human rights, privacy rights and employer requirements can collide. The Policy represents the OHRC’s best advice on how employers can respect the human rights of people with addictions to drugs or alcohol – or perceived addictions to drugs or alcohol – when it comes to testing.

Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane commented, “We all want to work in a safe environment and employers have a legal obligation to provide one. This policy shows how employers can develop drug and alcohol policies that meet health and safety concerns and respect human rights.”

“Drug and alcohol testing in the workplace remains challenging terrain for employers and HR professionals to navigate. The OHRC’s updated policy provides clear, concise guidance on how to balance what are, at times, competing factors: the importance of providing a safe workplace for everyone, and the need to respect the privacy and the human rights of your employees" said Bill Greenhalgh, CEO of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA). "At HRPA, we regulate our members to protect the public interest, but our more than 22,000 members are tasked to ensure a safe and healthy workplace, protect their employees’ rights and safeguard their privacy. To that end, having access to an up-to-date policy such as this is invaluable.” 

This Policy, which will be of interest to employers, union representatives, human resource professionals, job applicants and employees, is available on the OHRC’s website.


Drug and alcohol testing policies and programs have human rights implications for people with addictions. Addictions to drugs or alcohol are considered “disabilities” under the Ontario Human Rights Code. People with current, past or perceived addictions to drugs or alcohol are protected from discrimination in employment, services, housing and other social areas.

Drug and alcohol testing policies or programs may discriminate against people with addictions or perceived addictions. Where they lead to negative effects based on addiction or perceived addiction, they can only be justified if an employer can show that testing is a legitimate (bona fide) requirement.

The OHRC is authorized to prepare, approve and publish human rights policies to provide guidance on interpreting provisions of the Code. The OHRC’s policies and guidelines set standards for how individuals, employers, service providers and policy-makers should act to comply with the Code. They represent the OHRC’s interpretation of the Code at the time of publication, and advance a progressive understanding of the rights set out in the Code. OHRC policies have been given great deference by the courts and the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, and quoted in the decisions of these bodies.


For more information:

For media inquiries, contact:

Afroze Edwards
Senior Communications Officer
Ontario Human Rights Commission