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Lafarge Canada justified in firing worker who tested positive for THC after crash

by HR Law Canada

Lafarge Canada was justified in firing a site superintendent who got into a minor vehicle accident at a worksite and subsequently tested positive for THC, the Court of King’s Bench of Alberta has ruled.

The court upheld the company’s decision to terminate him for violating Lafarge Canada’s drug and alcohol policy. THC is the active ingredient in cannabis.

Incident and termination

On June 3, 2022, the site superintendent — G.Q. — was involved in a minor collision at a worksite. Post-incident drug testing revealed THC levels above Lafarge’s permitted threshold. Despite being offered the opportunity to undergo a substance abuse assessment and participate in a substance abuse program as conditions for his return to work, he refused, leading to his termination on June 20, 2022.

G.Q., who had been with Lafarge since 1981, argued that the company’s drug and alcohol policy was unreasonable and that his termination violated the terms of his employment contract, which he claimed should have included progressive discipline measures rather than immediate termination.

Court’s analysis and decision

The court found that Lafarge’s drug and alcohol policy, established in 2009, was reasonable, unambiguous, well-publicized, and consistently enforced.

Justice Colin C.J. Feasby noted that “the Drug and Alcohol Policy constituted an implied term of (his) employment agreement,” and that G.Q. had acquiesced to the policy through his continued employment and enforcement of the policy as a supervisor.

Lafarge’s policy mandated drug and alcohol testing following workplace incidents to ensure fitness for duty, aligning with best practices and legal requirements for maintaining a safe workplace. The court accepted expert testimony that supported the precautionary approach to cannabis use in safety-sensitive environments, acknowledging the lingering effects of cannabis and the lack of definitive scientific data on its impairment duration.

Justifying cause in this case

The court noted that Lafarge’s approach to the positive drug test made it clear he would not have been fired “but for his refusal to undergo a substance abuse assessment and participate in the (substance abuse program).”

It rejected G.Q.’s arguments that Lafarge failed to take into account the length of his employment history, his age, job performance, seriousness of the incident, and the amount of harm caused to the company. He argued that his honesty throughout the process and co-operation with the initial drug test should weigh against termination.

The court said those submissions would have merit “in many circumstances.” But not here, because of G.Q.’s refusals.

“Faced with an employee who had a positive drug test, Lafarge had no alternative but to insist on compliance with its Drug and Alcohol Policy which I have found to be reasonable,” the court said. “Lafarge is required by law to maintain a safe workplace and could not, in the face of a positive drug test, accede to (G.Q.’s) position that he not be required to participate in the SAP or be subject to random drug testing.”

It also pointed to employer obligations under human rights law about the duty to accommodate employees with disabiltiies, including substance use disorder.

“(His) refusal to undergo a substance abuse assessment as part of the SAP prevented Lafarge from meeting its human rights law obligations,” the court said.

“The wilful refusal to abide by a policy critical to ensuring a safe workplace is incompatible with continued employment,” the court said, concluding that his behaviour constituted a repudiation of his employment contract.

The claim for wrongful dismissal was dismissed, and the court left it to the parties to agree on legal costs.

For more information, see Quong v Lafarge Canada Inc, 2024 ABKB 340 (CanLII).

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