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Sniffer Dogs and the Workplace?

Did you see the Supreme Court of Canada decision last month dealing with the use of police drug sniffing dogs at a high school? It reminded me of a case I had once when I practiced law in which an employer had requested the RCMP conduct a sniffer dog search of employee lockers because it suspected some employees might be selling drugs at the workplace. When the dog sniffed something funny, the employer opened an employee’s locker, found a marijuana joint, and terminated the employee. My case settled, but do you think that an employer should be able to have the police do this? Think of the police dog as an officer with “x-ray” vision. Should the superhero cop be permitted to look through doors and fabric to search places that a human officer would need a warrant to search?

A key issue in workplace disputes would be whether employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy at work. Do employees have an expectation of privacy in their workplace lockers? In their backpacks they store at work? There is a good body of arbitration case law dealing with the issue of when a unionized employer can search employees. The topic is canvassed thoroughly in “Brown and Beatty” (Canadian Labour Arbitration), Section 7:3625 Personal Privacy. As a general rule, arbitrators have ruled that there exists a general right to privacy at work, and that an employer must be able to show some good reason to justify infringing upon that privacy. Random sweeps of workplace lockers or personal bags absent evidence of a particular problem at the workplace (such as drug use, theft, etc.) are usually not permitted.

Here’s a tougher question: How would employees in non-union workplaces challenge an employer who insists on conducting physical, locker, or bag searches?

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One Response to Sniffer Dogs and the Workplace?

  1. clayton subanovich Reply

    October 17, 2018 at 8:02 pm

    Here is my two cents.

    All companies have a zero tolerance policy regarding drugs at work. When it is found at a worksite…where its not supposed to be, logically the employer would want to know how the heck it got there. The employer is held responsible for the safety of its workers…and thats law. How do you ensure the safety of the workers at that site now? The drugs didnt get there by themselves. How would you find where its coming from? Pre access testing is one thing…and its usually only done twice…when you first work at that site and AFTER an incident….when its too late. There is nothing inbetween. Some drugs can pass on thier effects simply by touch…so a worker can come into contact with it and not know…then they are at risk…which then puts others at risk..this goes back to the employer…especially if that worker gets hurt…or hurts someone else. How does the employer protect themselves? It doesn matter if its Union or not…workers have the right to be safe at work.
    As for privacy….if a person brings Illegal drugs to a worksite and you are caught by a random drug dog…normally at any site ive been to they ask to search your bag or whatever that the dog got a hit on. You do not have to give consent…but if you refuse …you are removed from site. You dont have to provide an explanation or anything. You are potentially endangering yourself and others at work…which goes back to the Human rights act…which states you are NOT allowed to put your safety or others at risk at a worksite. The lengths people will goto to smuggle it onto a worksite is unbelievable. Not to mention the ways that they come up to beat a drug test!

    So whats more important….the rights ofthe employer…who is LEGALLY responsible for ALL the workers safety…or the few that have the potential to hurt not just themselves…but other people around them?

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