Health and Safety
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Plan ahead to ensure everyone understands their responsibilities

By Angelo Carofano, MBA, CPA, CMA

The conversation surrounding the likely legalization of marijuana by July 2018 opens the door to a broader conversation surrounding drugs and alcohol for employers.

Executives, supervisors and managers – listen up: the link between cannabis and workplace impairment has yet to be addressed by the federal government. This presents a real challenge for employers, especially those who need to ensure a safe workplace.

At present, there’s no effective way of measuring impairment from marijuana on the job – nothing comparable to a breathalyzer measuring blood-alcohol content roadside. Currently, the only way to detect marijuana is through urine samples or blood tests, requiring a medical professional and access to a lab. And this in no way measures the current impairment of an employee.

Going beyond safety, the financial toll of substance abuse on Canadian businesses is enormous. When lost productivity, healthcare, workplace turnover and recruitment and training are factored in, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse estimates substance abuse costs Canadian employers $39.8 billion annually.

What can you do?

First, it’s important to understand that the legalization of marijuana doesn’t mean your expectations of employees have to change. They will still be legally obligated to show up sober and prepared to work.

Second, brush up on what your obligations as an employer are to an employee who is impaired or has a substance abuse addiction. It’s not as cut and dry as firing someone for showing up impaired or having admitted an addiction, incidences of which might increase as legal cannabis becomes a reality. Providing accommodation for employees that are impaired or have a substance abuse issue is a legal must.

While drug testing might seem like a viable option at first glance, it comes with its own set of difficulties. Pre-employment testing is allowed under specific circumstances, like safety-sensitive positions, and employers can’t withdraw offers of employment based on a positive drug test. Random testing is currently not allowed except for cross-border drivers to comply with U.S. standards and the recent Toronto Transit Commission ruling.

Use the impending – and, if it happens, eventual – legalization of marijuana as a conversation starter to get employees involved. Any good challenge comes with opportunity – this is a chance to lead the dialogue, rather than trying to catch up to it.

Active engagement from employees means greater accountability to one another for the expectation that each person will show up to work ready, willing and able. Working collectively to institute a governing policy means greater employee buy-in. For example, providing an employee assistance program means employees know there is professional support a phone call or an email away, without having to worry about the financial expense.

What can be done?

Rolling out a new or revised drug and alcohol program in the workplace is no small task. Appropriately communicating information and introducing programs will work to capture the attention of employees and draw them in.

Along with engaging employees, creating a drug and alcohol program means mitigating risks and ensuring safety to the best of your ability. The overall goal is to reduce and prevent employee impairment through employee participation and support, and to return employees under accommodation to work in a productive manner. 

Angelo Carofano, MBA, CPA, CMA, is vice president of finance and administration at Workplace Medical Corp. He also consults with clients on their absence management policy, programs and risk mitigation strategies from a CFO perspective

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