What Legal Cannabis May Mean for Employers
In June, the federal government passed Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act. The legislation, proposed in April 2017, will make it legal to buy, possess and consume cannabis in all provinces and territories across Canada starting October 17, 2018.
Specific rules around buying and using cannabis will vary depending on where you live (for example, the minimum age will be 18 in some provinces and 19 in others; some communities will allow cannabis use in public spaces, while others will restrict it to private homes only) But one area in which most provinces will likely be on the same page is “cannabis in the workplace” – meaning the rules for dealing with pot at work will be a little fuzzy everywhere.
Workplace drug use and/or impairment have long been a grey area. Policies around alcohol and drug use at the workplace are the responsibility of employers, not governments, although labour laws in most provinces say employers have the duty to address hazards at the worksite to keep employees safe.
And while you can test for impairment by alcohol, testing for impairment by cannabis is more difficult. There is no simple threshold for cannabis like there is for alcohol; the detection of THC in an employee’s system could be from cannabis consumed a month ago…and that’s not sign of impairment.
The Conference Board of Canada recently released a report that surveyed Canadian employers to learn their concerns about legalization and what they think it will mean for their businesses. The report, Blazing the Trail: What the Legalization of Cannabis Means for Canadian Employers found that:
- More than half of Canadian organizations are either concerned or very concerned about the legalization of cannabis as it pertains to the workplace.
- Employers' top concerns include workplace safety, impairment or intoxication, and increased use of cannabis both inside and outside the workplace.
- Employers will play a critical role in helping to shape legislation related to impairment, drug testing, and benefits coverage for medical use.
While employers will certainly face some new challenges with cannabis legalization, a good defence is to ensure there’s a solid alcohol and drug use policy in place now – and that it’s been updated to address some of the unique challenges that come with cannabis.
When developing a policy for your workplace, ask yourself this: how stringent should your organization be when it comes to alcohol and drug testing and potential discipline for impairment on the job? What are the operational needs of your specific industry and how safety sensitive is the work your employees do?
Here are some other things to consider when developing or updating your company’s alcohol and drug policy:
Talk to a lawyer. Consult with legal partners to make sure your policy respects the privacy and human rights of employees.
Train your managers. Provide supervisors and managers with training so they can recognize impairment, as well as any training that may help them address the subject with employees.
Educate your employees. First, make sure your employees understand that even though cannabis will now be legal in Canada, they can’t come to work under the influence of cannabis and that working while impaired, either by alcohol, cannabis or any other drugs, puts the safety of everyone at risk. Second, make sure they know about the alcohol and drug policy and understand what it means for them. And third, just like for your managers, provide training for employees so they too can recognize if somebody is impaired at work or suffering from substance abuse. Peer-to-peer conversations can be more effective than boss-to-employee confrontations.
“No free accidents”. If your business’s operations are safety-sensitive, you might consider including a “no free accident” rule in your alcohol and drug policy. This means your employees would agree to disclose any drug addictions or substance abuse problems to you and get treatment before their problems can compromise workplace safety.
Help those who need help. Have a system in place where employees can confidentially seek help, and provide resources and supports for those who have cannabis (or other substance) abuse problems. This could include access to confidential treatment and employee family assistance programs.