It’s recently come to light that Prince William and Duchess Kate Middleton are looking for a new housekeeper!
The royal couple already have one son together, and Kate is due with her second any day now! As I’m sure is true for most couples, they’re looking for some extra help around the house.
Thinking about the pressure that would come with being a housekeeper to the future heirs of the English throne, I thought about the position, and what the couple might be looking for.
Of course, they’ll want someone who’s outstanding, credible, and qualified. But what else will they require?
It made me wonder not just how much of a saint the housekeeper has to be, but also what kind of measures the royal couple could take to ensure that whoever they hire is who he or she claims to be.
I thought I’d focus on drug and alcohol testing in Ontario. Would it be allowed? Can it be random?
In Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, Local 30, v Irving Pulp and Paper Ltd, at issue was a random alcohol testing policy that was used despite no evidence of a workplace problem with alcohol use and/or abuse.
The policy called for 10% of employees to be randomly selected for unannounced breathalyzer testing over the course of a year
If you tested positive, you faced severe disciplinary action, including dismissal.
The union representing the employees took issue with this! It argued that the absence of any evidence of a problem meant that this was just an unjust intrusion into the workers’ lives. The case went all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada!
There, it was decided that the initial decision – that this was way too much of an unjustified intrusion – was reasonable, and it would be wrong to interfere with the original arbitrator’s opinion.
The court stated that any rule or policy unilaterally imposed by an employer and not agreed to by the employees (through their union) must be consistent with the collective agreement and be reasonable.
Looking to what it means to be ‘reasonable,’ the court stated that there must be a balancing of interests.
Basically, when the employer wants to introduce something like random drug and alcohol testing, the question to be asked is whether the benefit to the employer from the random alcohol testing policy is proportional to the harm it could have on employee privacy.
This ‘balancing of interests’ approach is, of course, problematic. It means that the same issue could have different outcomes, depending on the arbitrator!
It looks like the courts will look to your job and your boss’s need for the testing, and then make a game day judgment call.
Annoyingly, this is yet another situation of ‘it depends.’
As you’ve seen if you’ve been following the blog, this is a long-running theme in the legal realm.
Courts actively try not to make any definitive rulings on subject matters and issues. Instead, they prefer to make general statements about a legal case, and then clarify it by adding some sort of statement that their decision was almost entirely fact-based and future outcomes will change depending on the facts at hand.
Looking to the housekeeper situation, odds are this kind of testing will be allowed. Why?
Well, first off, the employment relationship there is likely to be much more one-on-one than the workplaces for which this principle applies. I’d be willing to bet that the housekeeper will just be one qualified person acting as his or her own representative.
The rationale behind the principle mentioned above is intended to apply mostly to larger, unionized workplaces where an employer issues workplace-wide testing with no justification for doing so.
Second, one of the balancing factors will always be the nature of the employment. As a housekeeper, the job may fall into what’s often referred to as ‘vulnerable sector employment.’ This is usually applied to jobs involving children and in-house work, where it’s considered perfectly acceptable to have some more stringent occupational requirements.
When dealing with children, or having a workplace at a location inhabited by children, an alcohol problem can absolutely become an occupation hazard, and I’d be willing to guess that alcohol testing would be considered reasonable in the circumstances.
In the end, it’s all about what Kate and William are looking for! If they’re looking for a sober housekeeper, and make the offer for employment conditional on this, then odds are it will be viewed as a legitimate request.
If they don’t, and some sort of issue arises, it’d be up to the chosen housekeeper to argue that such requests are not sufficiently related to his or her employment. That being said, it’d definitely be an uphill battle!
What can you take away from this? Well, whenever you get a job, always review your contract!! If there are any irregularities, or even something you’re confused about, reach out to your representatives (if you have any), your friends or family, an attorney, or even your employer!
You don’t want to sign up for something for which you’re not comfortable, and either way, it’s always best to be completely informed about something as important as your job!