As of October 17th, 2018, marijuana will be legal across Canada. However, the federal government hasn't set any regulations for how cannabis should be handled in the workplace, instead letting Provincial Governments create their own legislation. This has left many employers wondering what that means for their drug and alcohol policies, and where legalized cannabis fits into it all.
In many ways, legal marijuana is now not all that different from alcohol. It can cause impairment which can have disastrous consequences in the workplace, but it can also be a tool to help people unwind and build stronger connections with each other in a safe environment. People under the influence of cannabis will have impaired judgement, just like someone who has been drinking on the job. They are not only a risk to themselves, they are also a risk to the people working around them. The key is to have policies in place that will keep all workers safe on the job.
WorkSafeBC, an organization established by provincial legislation as an agency to oversee a no-fault insurance system for British Columbian workplaces, has been among the first to release a statement on the effect legalization will have, or rather won't have, on their current policies. As explained in a public media backgrounder:
At this time, WorkSafeBC has not identified a need to amend occupational health and safety requirements in the province. Cannabis impairment in the workplace is not a new issue, and B.C. has one of the most robust regulatory frameworks for workplace impairment in the country.
To that end, WorkSafeBC is currently considering what tools its Prevention Officers need to promote compliance with those regulations. WorkSafeBC is also working with the provincial government’s Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Secretariat, which is coordinating the provincial response to cannabis legalization from a broad variety of public-sector stakeholders.
WorkSafeBC is also consulting with other jurisdictions and provincial regulators across the country and will review any new national frameworks that may require the Workers Compensation Act or Occupational Health and Safety Regulation to be amended.
Having a set of regulations already in place by a governing body does not mean that companies themselves do not have to have a written drug and alcohol policy in place for their employees to acknowledge, however it does give them a point of reference when they are setting out the rules of what they consider to be tolerable in their work environment.
Managing Medical Marijuana Use
Legislation pertaining to medical marijuana will not be repealed or amended when legalization takes effect. This means that any company policies that are in place, and any concessions made for medical marijuana users, should also remain as they are. Remember, for some, cannabis is the most effective way to find relief from their medical conditions, like taking prescription strength ibuprofen or Tylenol 3s. In this case, it is up to your organization to determine the limitations of what will or will not be tolerated in the workplace.
Some organizations may allow the use of medically prescribed CBD, a marijuana compound that does not cause impairment, while you are on the job, and have a ban on the use of THC, which does cause impairment.
If you are using medical marijuana in any shape or form, it is best to disclose it to your employer. They can then educate themselves and make the most appropriate decision for both you and themselves.
In an article published on Lift News, Jason Fleming, the director of Human Resources at MedReleaf, a licensed cannabis producer, believes that knee-jerk reactions will be common as legalization moves forward and requests for accommodations increase, but that education and transparency are key to making the transition easier for everyone.
Because this is relatively new, it’s a point of concern for a lot of employers. But when both parties are working together, towards the best possible plan, this can work very smoothly.
The message to employers is to try and understand as much as they can about medical cannabis and how it can be accommodated safely. It’s important to be informed, educated and prepared to handles these claims fairly.
Addiction and Duty to Accomodate
Yes, marijuana use can lead to addiction. And like any other illness, it may require some accommodations on the employer's part. The most important thing to remember in an addiction situation is that both the employer and the employee have rights that need to be respected.
Employers have the right to prohibit all employees from possession, use, or being under the influence of cannabis in the workplace. They also have the right to ask employees who are disclosing a cannabis addiction for medical confirmation of their illness. However, it should be noted that employers cannot reach out directly to an employee's doctor and as the following paragraph from the Alberta Human Rights Commission states:
When an employee is absent for medical reasons it is reasonable to ask them for medical information confirming that their absence is for medical reasons and for an approximation of the date they are expected to return to work.
The employer does not have an unconditional right to full disclosure of the employee's medical situation.
Employees suffering from addiction have the right to a leave of absence to seek treatment, up to the extent of undue hardship on their employer, same as a person suffering from any other severe illness. The also have the right to confidentiality, dignity, individualization, integration and full participation. This means that they have the right to discretion, accommodations in place for their unique circumstances, and a barrier-free work environment that will allow them to continue their work as unmodified as possible.
As written in the Ontario Human Rights Commission:
The duty to accommodate is informed by three principles: respect for dignity, individualization, and integration and full participation.
Respect for dignity: The duty to accommodate people with disabilities means accommodation must be provided in a way that most respects the dignity of the person, if doing so does not cause undue hardship. Human dignity encompasses individual self-respect, self-worth and inherent worth as a human being. It is concerned with physical and psychological integrity and empowerment. It is harmed when people are marginalized, stigmatized, ignored or devalued. Privacy, confidentiality, comfort, individuality and self-esteem are all important factors.
Individualization: There is no set formula for accommodating people identified by Code grounds. Each person’s needs are unique and must be considered afresh when an accommodation request is made. What might work for one person may not work for others. A solution may meet one person's requirements, but not another's.
Integration and full participation: Accommodations should be developed and implemented with a view to maximizing a person’s integration and full participation. Achieving integration and full participation requires barrier-free and inclusive design and removing existing barriers. Where barriers continue to exist because it is impossible to remove them at a given point in time, then accommodations should be provided, unless this causes undue hardship.
Keep Your Head Clear
OK, so let's recap. As of October 17th, 2018, marijuana will become a legal substance. However, it doesn't mean you will get to use it wherever and whenever you please. Expect that most companies will continue to have drug and alcohol policies in place that will let you do what you please on your own time, but will firmly oppose that you have, use, or are under the influence of cannabis at any time while you are on the job.
On the other hand, if you see someone in your workplace under the influence of cannabis, report it to a supervisor immediately. They could be a danger to themselves or to the people around them. They may not be happy about getting caught, but it's better than being the cause of an injury or worse. You could save a life.