Legalization of Cannabis in Canada… Are you still behind the smokescreen?
Recreational use of cannabis becomes legal across Canada on October 17, 2018. What that means for workplaces may or may not have a significant impact on yours. Whether you’re concerned or not, based on the numbers outlined below, we encourage you to get out in front.
While the debate continues on whether legalization will directly impact more frequent use, and/or new users, cannabis use, particularly amongst older Canadians, appears to be on the rise. According to Statistics Canada (April 2018), 14% of Canadians (17% in BC) used cannabis for either medical or recreational purposes in the preceding three months, with over half of those using daily or weekly. That’s 2.4 million regular users across Canada.
That all said, the likelihood your workplace will go rogue on October 17th is slim. Further, preparing your workplace need not be an overwhelming task. It is, however, important to set and communicate clear parameters. If you currently have a Drugs & Alcohol or Fit to Work policy in place, you may already be set, perhaps with a few revisions. If you don’t currently have either, now is definitely a good time to do so, keeping in mind that recreational cannabis should be treated in much the same way as alcohol. In other words, it’s not okay for employees to be under the influence at work. And like alcohol, just because it’s legal doesn’t mean you need to/should allow it at work.
Where prescription cannabis is concerned, a clear policy and consistent approach to dealing with all matters of substance use in the workplace can also help mitigate associated challenges.
In general, your policy should be clear that employees are not permitted to work while under the influence (or after effects) of alcohol, illicit drugs, mood-altering substances, or medications that negatively impact their abilities and performance. It should also define each term and outline what’s prohibited; for example: consuming non-prescribed drugs – including alcohol and cannabis – at any point while at work; operating company vehicles or machinery after consuming substances; and consuming any substances (including prescription) where performance/productivity, safety, and comfort of others is impacted.
Depending on an employee’s medical circumstances, there may be situations where performance and productivity may be impacted by prescribed use of cannabis – or by a dependence on it. As is the case for other prescribed medications (or disabilities as a result of dependence), employers do have an obligation to accommodate. However, this doesn’t override your right to expect employees to work safely, act respectfully, follow policies/ procedures, show up on time and carry out duties (within the accommodated parameters).
Neither legalization nor a prescription for cannabis give employees the green light to be impaired, smoke/vape/consume at work, show up whenever they want, or not show up at all. Nor does it give employees carte blanche to wander through the workplace trailing a waft of cannabis odour. Further, your employer rights and obligations don’t change on October 17th.
While the handling of prescribed cannabis isn’t new, legalization will present unique challenges for some workplaces. These include recognizing and addressing cannabis use, drug testing in safety sensitive environments, and navigating social situations where alcohol has typically been acceptable, such as the holiday party. Stay tuned for more on these topics in the coming weeks.