Legalization of Cannabis in Canada… How to Identify and Address Use
Cannabis legalization in Canada is just one day away. Last week, we outlined the respective rights and obligations of both employees and employers, in addition to key policy points. This week, we discuss how to identify and address employees who may be impaired at work.
While legalization may not significantly change consumption behavior, we may find higher incidences of employees choosing to smoke (note that edibles and vaping will not be legalized until 2019) before work or during their lunch breaks. Once again, it’s important to keep in mind that legalization doesn’t change your employer rights, nor allow employees’ rights to override yours.
It’s also important to understand the effects of cannabis, how to recognize its use, and educate your supervisors and managers accordingly. While there’s little in the way of consistent, conclusive evidence on the impact of cannabis in the workplace (and no published studies on the impact of legalization), we do know that cannabis affects every user differently. Effects depend on amount used, how it’s used (e.g. smoked or eaten), potency of the strain; frequency of use (i.e. degree of tolerance), and individual characteristics (e.g. size, weight, mood, etc.).
While impact will differ, some of the effects of cannabis use (which can last on average from 2 to 6 hours) include decreased concentration; issues with short-term memory; decreased alertness and reaction time; impaired thinking and ability to carry out complex tasks; loss of balance or coordination; and changes in sensory perception. This highlights the importance of employer awareness and knowing how to address it.
So what should you do if you suspect an employee is stoned at work?
- Have a confidential and frank conversation. Let them know what you’re witnessing (e.g. behaviour, odour) and how it is or may be impacting their performance, safety and/or comfort of others.
- Refer to your policies and be clear about your expectation of professionalism, whether for medicinal or recreational purposes. This isn’t about what they’re using or why but about setting clear standards in line with your policy.
- Arrange to have medical documentation provided, if the use is for medical purposes.
- Clearly impaired employees should be sent home immediately and safely (i.e. by arranging a taxi or ensuring they go on foot).
- Disciplinary measures (e.g. a written warning) may be appropriate depending on circumstances, keeping in mind the duty to accommodate.
- Drug testing may be appropriate in safety sensitive environments.
Once again, and we can’t stress this enough, legalization of cannabis does NOT make it okay for an employee to be stoned at work. The key is to know how to recognize the signs, address it right away, be consistent and always refer to your policy.