Submitted By: Priya Mukherjee – October 1st, 2018
With October 17th, 2018 fast approaching, employers are gearing up to adapt to the changes that will affect their workplace with regards to Bill C-45 and the legalization of recreational cannabis. What was once highly stigmatized and deemed as an illegal substance has now been recognized as the only drug to be legalized for both medical treatment and recreational use. The continuous and significant changes to the legal status of cannabis use poses many questions and challenges for employers in Canada. With the lack of information and uncertainty, many employers are not currently prepared with the appropriate tools or resources to ensure safety in their workplace.
“It is important that workplaces focus on creating safe environments and helping workers stay healthy at work as we move through the transition to legalization,” said Kim Slade, Director of Emerging Markets and Commercialization at PSHSA, one of Ontario’s designated health and safety associations. “While some workplaces feel they have policies and procedures in place to address health and safety concerns, others are looking for clarity on what legalization means to their workplace health and safety practices, specifically as it relates to safety-sensitive roles.”
The legalization of recreational cannabis use has a high chance of presenting apprehensions and challenges with regards to workplace safety which includes:
- Intoxication and Impairment in the workplace
- Productivity, Performance and Function
- Legal Implications
- Addiction and Dependency
- Potential costs to the organization for accidents and insurance
Are you ready?
While the challenges to accommodate to this new legislation may seem intimidating, employers should already have existing Workplace Intoxication guidelines and policies in place which can they can elaborate on to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for all. While the issue of legalized recreational cannabis use is a fairly new topic, employers have been dealing with the implications of alcohol and drug use in the workplace for many years. Employers will now need to gear up their effort to train, educate and clearly communicate to their employees the appropriate Policies and Procedures, Rights and Responsibilities and implications of workplace Cannabis use and intoxication
Information & Awareness
To understand the impact of its legalization, employees should first and foremost be educated on cannabis itself.
- Provide employees with general information on the legislation itself (the path to legalization)
- The various types of cannabis (strains, potency etc.), various methods of use (inhalation vs. swallowing)
- The distinctive behaviours and physical mannerisms of those under the influence.
- The information should be presented in an un-bias manner to ensure that you are not discriminating against those who use the drug for medicinal or recreational purposes.
Individuals have the right to their personal opinions and lifestyle choices when it comes to the use of cannabis. However, it is important that they understand that use of the substance will certainly impair their mental and physical capabilities. This poses a major concern for those organizations who are committed to providing employees with a safe and healthy working environment.
Employers’ and Employee’s Responsibilities
Everyone must adhere to their individual roles and responsibilities when it comes to workplace health and safety. Both employers and employees should be equipped with the appropriate know-how to prevent and minimize the risks of cannabis impairment at work.
- Ensure the safety of all employees in the workplace
- Identify and Address hazards in the workplace, including employee impairment
- Implement and Communicate policies and procedures on cannabis use and other impairing substances
- Make all efforts to ensure their personal safety and the safety of their colleagues and co-workers
- Understand the safety repercussions that their substance use can have on themselves and on others
- Adhere to the policies set forth by their employer concerning the safety of others
- Report to their employer anything that may be hazardous to themselves or anyone else in the workplace
When it comes to safety we must all play our roles!
Policies and Procedures
The most effective way to prepare yourselves for the legislation change is to implement and set forth clear and concise policies when it comes to recreational cannabis use. Recreational marijuana use in the workplace should have the same implications as the use off any other substance, such as alcohol. As per the Human Rights Code, employers are required to adhere to the Duty to Accommodate when it comes employees who are prescribed marijuana for medical treatment purposes, as with any other medical need or ailment. Under these circumstances, employees have the right to accommodation for their medical conditions or requirements based on proof of the ailment and supporting documentation. However, in the case of recreational use, employers have the right to enforce a Zero Tolerance Policy against impairment in the workplace to ensure the safety of all employees. It is important to note, that a Zero Tolerance Policy is especially warranted when an employee’s job role is safety sensitive and they are required to be Fit for Duty at all times on the job.
Communicating and training your employees on a clear and concise drug and alcohol policy will help to create guiding principals around what is acceptable as well as the consequences of not nonadherence.
Your Recreational Cannabis Policy should address:
- A clear statement of your company’s commitment to health, safety and the well-being of all employees and the general public
- Clearly express your company’s position and stance on recreational marijuana use at the workplace – some tolerance vs. zero tolerance
- If you choose to tolerate consumption, clearly outline the maximum and acceptable limits
- Guidelines regarding the use, possession or sale of cannabis during working hours
- Possible penalties and consequences that would be applicable in the case of non-compliance of the policy
- Clearly identify the differences and specific policies when dealing with medical cannabis use vs. recreational cannabis use
The legalization of recreational cannabis use has created unique challenges for employers as there is minimal directive from the government on how to tackle the issues of use in the workplace. Currently, it seems the guidelines for use and levels of impairment are left to each individual employer to interpret. Handling this new initiative may seem overwhelming, however, employers do not need to overhaul their guidelines drastically. Employers can currently enhance their existing policies and practices related to alcohol, drug and prescription medication use and impairment in the workplace.
Companies should focus on continuous education, training and awareness on cannabis use, signs of impairment, types and methods of use and mental and physical effects to ensure that they are equipping their staff and management team with the appropriate information and tools required to deal with workplace impairment.
As time proceeds, we will be able to compile more meaningful information on the uncertainties of recreational use of cannabis in the workplace. There will be clearer guidelines and directive from the government as to how we can ensure that we are fulfilling people’s rights, while also ensuring that the workplace remains safe, responsible and productive.