Introduction of Bill 26 in Alberta

January 2012 Author: Robert A. Rakochey

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The introduction of Bill 26 in Alberta, which is an amendment to the Traffic Safety Act, presents some interesting challenges to human resources managers. The bill sets a provincial limit of 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood (0.05) – less than the 0.08 level established under the federal Criminal Code – and when a driver fails this lower breath test, his or her licence is immediately suspended.  In the case of a first offence within 10 years, the suspension is for three days.  In the case of a second suspension it is 15 days, and in subsequent suspensions it is 30 days.

When the person is a "novice driver," if the test indicates the presence of alcohol in the driver's blood, the suspension is for 30 days.

Furthermore, when a person's driver's licence is surrendered after being charged with impaired driving, "over 80," or refusing to give a breath sample under the Criminal Code, the driver is immediately disqualified from driving a motor vehicle in Alberta "until the disposition of the criminal charge."

There is a further kicker: if the driver's licence is suspended under the Traffic Safety Act as a result of being charged under the Criminal Code with impaired driving, driving while over the legal (0.08) alcohol limit or refusing to provide a proper breath sample, then the peace officer, or another person authorized by the peace officer, shall seize or immobilize the motor vehicle that was being operated for a period of three days if it is the first time that the person has been disqualified or charged within 10 years, and for a period of seven days if it is the second or subsequent time the person has been disqualified or charged within 10 years.  Also, if the peace office only has a reasonable suspicion of the ingestion of any alcohol, drug or other substance in such a quantity so as to affect the driver's physical or mental ability, the licence may be suspended for 24 hours and the vehicle shall be seized or immobilized for 24 hours.  If it is a novice driver, the seizure or immobilization will be for seven days.  There is no exception for a motor vehicle that is owned by the driver's employer or any other person.

Employer concerns

This will present some interesting challenges for businesses whose employees must drive as part of their jobs, such as salespersons, landmen, rig service operators, as well as truck drivers, bus drivers and cab drivers.  The worker whose licence is suspended will suddenly be unable to carry out at least a part, if not all, of his or her job.  It will also create issues if the corporate vehicle is impounded.

There are a number of issues for human resources managers to consider in light of this new law in Alberta: host liability (where the employer has provided the alcohol at a party);  suspending pay during the suspension;  further discipline if a company vehicle has been seized or immobilized;  human rights and accommodation issues where the individual alleges an alcohol or drug dependency that led to the offence, suspension and seizure; and discipline concerns generally.

These should be addressed in hire letters, executive employment agreements, corporate policies available to employees, as well as internal human resource guidelines.

Norton Rose Canada can help.  We provide wide-ranging services to employers, including advice on hiring best practices, discipline best practices, dismissal best practices, human rights law, alcohol or drug testing issues, alcohol or drug dependency issues, and many other topics relevant to this issue.

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