Policies and Procedure
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 Preparing for the legalization of recreational cannabis

By Kym Fawcett


With the pending legalization of recreational cannabis across Canada coming in October, employers are thinking about the impact this could have on their workplace.

Some of the common concerns they express include:

  • Will workplace safety or corporate culture be impacted?
  • Will employee absenteeism increase?
  • Will organizational productivity be affected?
  • Will cannabis impairment in the workplace become an issue?

Many are also asking what they need to do to reduce corporate risk resulting from the expected increased use of cannabis throughout Canada. A 2017 survey conducted by HRPA found that, of 650 employers surveyed, nearly half (45 per cent) did not believe their current workplace policies adequately addressed the potential new issues that may arise with the legalization and expected increased use of marijuana.

To address these concerns, organizations need to review their current practices, identify gaps that may exist in respect to the upcoming change in legislation and determine their position on cannabis going forward. However, prior to beginning this work, it is important for the organization to take the time to develop a full understanding of the rights and responsibilities of the organization and its employees when it comes to cannabis. It’s only then that they should begin to review and amend internal policies and procedures and train their supervisors and employees accordingly. Further, they need to ensure that appropriate staff and monetary resources are available for this work.

In Canada, employers have two main obligations. The first is required under federal and provincial Occupational Health and Safety laws, which is to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees. Employers are required to take every reasonable precaution to protect employees. This includes taking proactive steps to minimize or eliminate all potential safety risks in the workplace, including those associated with impairment. For cannabis, this means employers need to identify potential hazards posed by an employee using cannabis at work. For example, do they have employees that operate a vehicle or machinery as part of their work function? Do they have employees in safety-sensitive positions or that perform safety-sensitive tasks? Could an employee pose a risk to other workers or themselves if impaired? These are just some of the questions employers need to ask.

The second obligation results from human rights legislation and states that employers have a duty to protect their workers from discrimination on the basis of a disability. Drug and alcohol addictions are usually considered disabilities under this legislation and are protected from employer and co-worker discrimination.

It is also imperative that employers understand that if an employee has authorization for medical cannabis treatment from a health practitioner, they are considered to have a disability and cannot be discriminated against. Further, if the employee requests accommodation for a disability that medical cannabis has been authorized for, the employer has a duty to accommodate such a request up to the point of undue hardship for the employer. Some examples of accommodation include a change in work position or job duties, a move from a safety-sensitive position to a non-safety-sensitive position, flexibility in work hours or an alternate break schedule.

To some employers, the two obligations might seem like they are competing in some instances. That is, the duty to provide a safe workplace versus the duty to accommodate an employee’s use of medical cannabis or their alcohol or drug addictions.

So, what is an employer to do?

First, they need to review internal organizational policies and procedures for completeness and ensure these documents are adapted to include a discussion on cannabis. For most organizations, this would include prohibiting the use of recreational cannabis in the workplace. Some of the organizational policies and procedures that should be reviewed include:

  • Employment (and employment contracts)
  • Safety
  • Alcohol and drugs
  • Fit for duty or fit for work
  • Business code of conduct

In addition, the organization’s HR practices on “employee accommodation for disabilities” should be reviewed to ensure: 1) they exist; 2) they include a discussion on cannabis; 3) they meet human rights legislation requirements; and 4) they are carried out in a consistent manner throughout the organization. The organization should also check that their HR representatives fully understand the duty to accommodate obligation and the organization’s approach to accommodation.

The next step is to train leaders on the amendments made to organizational policies and procedures, new policies or procedures that may have been developed, the duty to accommodate process and their role in it as a leader and how to identify and address issues of cannabis impairment at work. It is important at this stage to ensure supervisors are provided with sufficient information to have a solid understanding of internal policies and practices. They need to be able to confidently answer questions that may be raised by employees.

Employees also require training and education, albeit not as in-depth as leadership training. They should be provided with cannabis awareness training and educated on any new, or amended, workplace policies and procedures. It is also important they understand their rights and responsibilities in respect to both recreational and medical cannabis. For many organizations, consideration should be given to whether employees be provided with training on impairment awareness and what steps to take if they encounter it in the workplace. For some industry sectors, this is a requirement.

Lastly, employers should consider whether a prevention and awareness campaign is right for their workplace. A “Fit for Duty” campaign can help with cannabis awareness (i.e., facts, risks, benefits), identify potential health and safety risks resulting from cannabis use, further strengthen employee understanding of corporate policy and help improve employee engagement by showing the organization cares about employees.

For employers that decide a prevention and awareness campaign is right for their organization, be creative. Campaigns can consist of posters, newsletters or company intranet articles, desk drops with facts about cannabis, pop up informational booths, lunch and learns, brochures, quizzes, contests, stickers, guest speakers, etc. The most effective awareness campaigns often use a variety of communication methods. Campaign topics could include: 10 myths about cannabis use, nine marijuana risks, marijuana harm reduction tips for parents, marijuana effects on brain development in youth, is marijuana use addictive, driving under the influence of cannabis, marijuana and mental health and marijuana effects on the unborn child. These are just a few ideas to get you started – at the end of the day, do what is right for your organization. n

Kym Fawcett is a senior EHS advisor at Cannabis Learning Series.




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