12 May 2017

Clash over kindy teacher drug testing case

1:41 pm on 12 May 2017

The case of a kindergarten teacher who was told to take drug tests or risk losing her job has two of the country's main educational bodies butting heads.

The national secretary of the Educational Institute union, Paul Goulter, said the Education Council was dangerously close to overstepping its authority after telling the teacher to take drug tests every three months if she wanted to keep teaching.

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The kindy teacher mentioned to her manager she occassionally smoke cannabis (file photo) Photo: 123rf.com

While working at a kindergarten in 2015, the teacher mentioned to her manager she occasionally smoked cannabis recreationally.

Shortly afterwards, her manager called a meeting at which she said the kindergarten might introduce drug and alcohol testing for staff.

She said any positive test could result in the teacher losing her job.

In February 2016, the kindergarten began randomly drug testing its employees, and about a month later, the teacher was selected for testing.

She refused to take the test and said she felt targeted by her manager, and ultimately resigned from her teaching position.

She was then reported to the Education Council by her ex-manager, and was charged by the council for refusing to take the test.

She was told she would have to take a drug test every three months in order to continue working as a teacher.

Wellington employment lawyer Andrew Scott-Howman said ordinarily compulsory drug tests were limited to safety-sensitive areas, like forestry or forklift drivers.

But Mr Scott-Howman said the Council had the right to compel a teacher to take a test - under specific circumstances.

"If an employer has suspicions that you're impaired at work, no matter what you do, then it can ask you to undertake a drug test to prove whether or not you're actually impaired.

"If a teacher was reasonably thought to be impaired, then - no question - you can ask that teacher to undertake a test."

However, the Educational Institute union's Mr Goulter was worried by the Council's move.

"We're always open to a conversation with the Education Council relating to drug and alcohol in schools.

"What concerns us is if the Education Council believes it has the right to unilaterally make rules without consulting the sector, and that appears to be dangerously close to being the case."

Andrew Greig, the Council's teacher practice manager, earlier said the Council believed the teacher may have been working while under the influence.

"There were concerns that this particular teacher might have been using drugs while she was in the classroom, and that's why the tribunal decided to impose tests on her."

But that claim was not backed up by the tribunal's report on the case.

"We have no way of knowing when the respondent's admitted drug use occurred, and whether it was a one-off lapse in judgement or a regular habit.

"Her refusal to acquiesce [to a test] invited suspicion that she was under the influence of a drug. However, there is no evidence that the respondent's performance was impaired by her use of cannabis."