ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — An offshore oil worker fired for unauthorized drug use is getting his job back after Newfoundland and Labrador's highest court reviewed his employer's investigation of a "significant" incident involving helicopter safety.
The court was told drug tests were ordered in January 2015 for eight Hibernia platform employees after a series of mistakes were spotted in manifests used to track luggage loaded on the helicopters that carry workers to and from the platform — about 300 kilometres southeast of St. John's.
A helicopter loading officer was fired after he tested positive for benzodiazepines, a class of drugs that includes tranquilizers like Valium.
All parties involved in the case, including the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, agreed the errors constituted a “significant incident," the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal said in a decision released Friday.
However, a panel of three appeal court judges unanimously agreed with an arbitration board's 2016 decision to reinstate the unionized employee because his employer, the Hibernia Platform Employers' Organization, ordered the drug and alcohol tests without seeking an explanation for what happened.
"There was not sufficient information to establish a possible link between substance use by the (employee) and the cause of the incident," the board said in its ruling. "It was not appropriate to order the test in the exercise of managerial discretion."
The judges also agreed with the board's conclusion that there were reasonable explanations for the errors.
"The other explanations included the actions of the passenger who misplaced his bag at the top of the emergency stairwell, and the fact that procedures designed to improve loading operations and eliminate manifest discrepancies, such as the new check list, were not operational on January 13, 2015," the board said.
"The board concludes that the alcohol and drug test ... was ordered without consideration of the explanation that errors in process had not been corrected, without an explanation from the (employee), and without sufficient reason to link the (employee's) actions to the incident."
The three judges also agreed with a Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court judge, who dismissed the employer's request for a judicial review, saying it would not have caused a significant delay for the employer to question the eight-member heli-deck crew.
The employer had argued that the board's decision was unreasonable because it interfered with management’s right to order drug testing under the collective agreement.
An investigation was ordered after it was discovered that a manifest, dated Jan. 13, 2015, included an entry for an 11-kilogram bag that wasn't placed on the helicopter.
Errors in the manifests were detected during a five-week period that started in late 2014. The heli-deck crew handling the baggage included the loading officer, six deck hands and one non-unionized supervisor.
The board found the platform services supervisor did not obtain a statement from the employee before the supervisor reported to the offshore installation manager. As well, the manager did not speak to any member of the heli-deck crew before ordering the tests.
As well, the board found the offshore installation manager was wrong when he assumed that a new check list procedure was in place.
By Michael MacDonald in Halifax