Valérie Fernandez

By Valérie Fernandez

September 6, 2018


Managing the Legalization of Cannabis in the Workplace

Article revised on 29 November 2018

The legalization of cannabis has been written about extensively and has sparked much debate in our country. According to the results of a survey conducted by the Quebec order of certified human resources professional (the CHRP Order), 73% of Quebec HR professionals are concerned about the issues that organizations may face as a result of the legalization of pot. Of course, it is difficult to measure the consequences that this change will have on companies and their employees. However, your organization has everything to gain from being prepared and from having already come up with ways of handling inappropriate situations. Here are a few ideas that may help you develop a plan.

Very real consequences

In its guide How to adapt the workplace to the legalization of cannabis, the CHRP Order indicates that, in 2014, the Addiction Prevention Centre (APC) estimated the loss of productivity tied to alcohol and drugs at over $1 billion a year. The APC also predicted that absenteeism due to the use of psychotropic substances would increase by threefold, that production would be down by 30% on average and that sickness benefit claims would triple.

Obligations to be met

Canadian workplace legislation requires employers to protect the physical and psychological health and safety of their employees. Therefore, in situations where employees report for work after using cannabis and represent a potential danger for their colleagues or any other person, the organization can impose sanctions, the severity of which is proportionate to the degree of risk.

A word of caution: Employers do not have the right to systematically require employees to take a drug test. They must have reasonable grounds to believe that an employee who has reported for work is drug impaired.

Moreover, in certain circumstances, a employer may accommodate an employee who is struggling with a dependency which, based on a number of court rulings, is associated with a handicap. An employer could, for example, ask an employee to take part in an addiction treatment program, the costs of which it has covered.

Guidance based on a policy

Although cannabis use will soon be legal, nothing prevents an organization from developing a drug use policy that clearly communicates a zero-tolerance attitude with regard to drug use on work premises or during working hours or reporting for work while under the influence of drugs.

Not sure how to go about it? The CHRP Order suggests some essential steps:

1. Establish a committee with members representing the employer, the employees, the union, and the Legal and Communications departments.

2. Conduct an internal consultation to determine the impacts of cannabis use in your organization.

3. Draft the policy, taking particular care to specify:

  • The organization’s degree of tolerance with regard to cannabis use. A distinction should be made between recreational and medical cannabis use.
  • The methods used to apply the policy, to ensure adherence.
  • Possible penalties (possibly, on a graded scale) that would apply in cases of non-compliance.
  • Concrete examples of what will and will not be tolerated.

4. Communicate the policy to staff in all employment levels and groups. Prevention and awareness activities should be carried out to ensure that everyone is on the same page and they know the limitations and risks associated with cannabis in the workplace, as well as each person’s rights.

5. Carry out appropriate monitoring. Experience an initial year of application, and make adjustments based on the results of monitoring. It’s a good idea to set up a monitoring committee to compile comments, observations and impacts of the Policy.

The guide prepared by the CHRP Order includes an example of a policy on cannabis use in the workplace. It can give you something to use as a basis and provide guidance. That said, all organizations have their own issues and their own culture. One thing is certain: Your organization has everything to gain from being prepared for entry into force of the new legislation. You want to be able to rely on employees’ being productive, attentive and fully functional.

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