Safety-Sensitive Position

Last updated: February 3, 2019

What Does Safety-Sensitive Position Mean?

A safety-sensitive position is a job or work duty in which an employee’s performance of the job impacts the safety of themselves or others. The term includes jobs where performing a task poorly or failure to perform it at all could result in a safety incident.

Whether a position is safety-sensitive influences if emphasis must be placed on an individual's physical suitability to perform a given set of tasks effectively, without exception, on an ongoing basis. It also has specific legal meanings in several jurisdictions and is commonly used in context with discussions about employee impairment due to drugs or alcohol. In this context, a position being safety-sensitive allows employers to perform drug testing and learn about any relevant disabilities the employee may have without violating privacy or anti-discrimination laws.

Safeopedia Explains Safety-Sensitive Position

The concept of safety-sensitive positions provides employers with a framework for determining the obligations and rights they have when assessing whether a given candidate is suitable for a specific job. It is commonly used in both Canada and the United States.

As a legal issue, whether a position can be considered “safety-sensitive” determines whether an employer is allowed to conduct medical examinations and drug/alcohol testing of employees without violating their privacy rights. It also affects whether an employer can use the results of such a test to deny employment to an individual. For instance, whether an individual can be ruled ineligible to work due to the use of medically prescribed cannabis taken before bed is a question that would have different answers if the individual is operating heavy machinery (safety-sensitive) or working a cash register (not safety-sensitive).

The precise definition of a safety-sensitive position varies by jurisdiction. In the U.S., the term is defined at the federal level through instruments such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Some individual U.S. states offer more precise definitions of the term.

Inquiries by employers or potential employers that relate to the use of medical opiates or marijuana are not allowed under the EEOC or Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) unless the employer can demonstrate that the position is safety-sensitive. The Canada Human Rights Commission takes a similar view; however, unlike in the U.S., no legal definitions of the term are provided by federal or provincial Canadian governments.


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