Although legalization of cannabis in Canada is expected to go ahead this spring, employer education remains a missing but necessary part of the legalization equation. Employers must adapt to legalization in a way that respects personal rights while maintaining a safe, healthy working environment.
Here are our recommendations for the four best ways to anticipate the legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada.
1. Know that your right to maintain a safe and healthy workplace will continue to be protected. Employees impaired by cannabis will never have the right to work in safety-sensitive positions that endanger their safety and the safety of others. In some cases, you may need to accommodate medical cannabis use of an employee by transferring them to a non-safety-sensitive position, or offer sick leave if this becomes impossible. If an employee has an addiction, you may need to direct that person to addictions counselling. Educate yourself on your legal rights as an employer.
2. Update your drug and alcohol policy. Enlist the help of a professional. Although it seems like an easy solution, simply having a “zero tolerance policy” for cannabis use at work is not recommended. It will likely harm your hiring and retention rates, and may also discourage people from reporting their use of cannabis, creating unsafe situations. It is crucial that employers create a safety-positive culture rather than a threatening or punitive one. Ensure that your policy is comprehensive and up-to-date and that it addresses the nuances of the issue.
3. Don’t panic. Legalization is unlikely to change your risk level at work in any dramatic way, partly because Canadians are already using cannabis. Medicinal cannabis has been legal in Canada since 2001, and approximately one in five Canadians use cannabis recreationally.1 If your workers are already using cannabis (and evidence suggests that at least a few of them are), the change to your workplace culture is unlikely to be dramatic.
4. Treat medicinal cannabis like any other prescription. Although there is an enduring social stigma against it, cannabis is an effective treatment for a variety of medical conditions. Many Canadians have a legitimate medical need for the drug, with roughly 100,000 registered users nationwide at the end of 2016.2 Treat it the same way you might treat any other medication that has the potential to cause impairment at work.
It’s true that the legalization of cannabis will cause social and cultural shifts. As employers, your role will be to adapt to change, always with an eye on maintaining the safety of your workplace and the wellbeing of your employees. Be proactive, take steps to mitigate risk, and approach change with optimism and an open mind.
1 Evans, P. (2015, November 10). 20% of Canadians smoked pot last year, but more than 30% would if legal, poll suggests. CBC News. Retrieved March 21, 2017 from http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/marijuana-pot-poll-survey-1.3312151.
2 Miller, J. (2016, December 12). Number of Canadians buying legal medical marijuana triples in just one year. Financial Post. Retrieved March 21, 2017 from http://business.financialpost.com/news/agriculture/number-of-canadians-buying-legal-medical-marijuana-triples-in-just-one-year-pn-1188-words-local-news
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