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The Supreme Court has ruled that an employer was within its rights to terminate an employee’s employment who had a cocaine addiction.

The case involved Elk Valley Coal Corporation, a company operating a coal mine in Alberta.

The company had a policy stating the following:

to ensure safety by encouraging employees with substance abuse problems to come forward and obtain treatment before their problems compromised safety.”

The policy therefore required employees to inform the employer of any addiction issue and, in return, they would be offered assistance with treatment.

An employee of the company who used cocaine was involved in an accident with the loader which he operated.  The employee was tested for drugs/alcohols after the accident which came back positive.  Although the employee stated that he believed he was addicted to cocaine, his employment was terminated.

The former employee then brought a complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal, stating that he was the victim of discrimination on the basis of a disability.  The Tribunal dismissed his complaint on the basis that the termination of his employment was because of his failure to disclose the disability, not the disability itself.

The decision was subsequently upheld on appeal at both the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench and the Alberta Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) agreed.  In coming to this conclusion, the SCC stated the following regarding establishing that a human right violation may exist:

“[24] To make a case of prima facie discrimination, “complainants are required to show that they have a characteristic protected from discrimination under the Code; that they experienced adverse impact with respect to the service; and that the protected characteristic was a factor in the adverse impact

The SCC then stated the employee could have complied with the policy and that this was the factor in the decision to terminate his employment.

The decision makes it clear that the courts are willing to provide employers with flexibility when policies are clear and where safety is an issue.

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