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What Legal Pot Will Mean For The Workplace

What Legal Pot Will Mean For The Workplace

High times are approaching as marijuana becomes lawful in Canada. Here’s what to expect.


Employers, you’ll be taking a hit by July 2018. Getting high on marijuana will be legal in Canada. Not that hordes of stoned workers will storm the ramparts, demanding Twinkies and plush couches. But the change does pose dilemmas.


To be blunt, the new law makes a hash of things. There’ll be liability issues if baked employees cause accidents and resistance to random drug tests. The outlook is blurry pending clear direction from provincial governments.


Paranoid About Legalization’s Effects?

Top HR pros are legitimately worried about workplace weed. Number one concern on their list? Nearly 50% cited workplace safety, says a recent HRPA survey.


Lots of other issues could arise too:

    slacking productivity

    spotty attendance

    behavioural changes that cause disruptions

    liability for accidents and harm to others

    increased medical costs

    more duty to accommodate substance abuse


The Rules Are Still Foggy

Adding to HR’s anxiety is the lack of existing regulations. Some issues are addressed by proposed provincial limitations on who can go herbal and where. Smoking grass in an office is verboten the same as cigarettes. But what about chomping Gummy Bears laced with cannabis? Or vaping outside during coffee break?


Employers are starving for guidance like a toker raiding an empty fridge. There’s a lack of sample policies and best practices. It’s expected, however, that more guidelines will be given by the government before summer.


Drug Testing To The Rescue?

Don’t count on the courts to allow random drug testing. They’ve been doling out mixed decisions lately. In Alberta, a judge granted a union bid to halt Suncor’s random drug and alcohol testing program. Yet the Toronto Transit Commission scored a verdict upholding its mandatory testing program, despite the union getting out of joint.


On the legal front there are human and privacy rights considerations. Also, it has to be shown that drugs and alcohol are a problem in that specific workplace.


Unreliable Results

Even if random drug testing was permissible, right now there’s no definitive test for impairment. Samples of urine and saliva can detect the presence of THC, the stuff in marijuana that gets people ripped. That doesn’t prove someone’s currently tripping.


It can take one or two (fabulously mellow) days for THC to leave the system. Plus a person’s body weight, tolerance level, the strain of Maryjane and how it’s ingested all affect impairment.   As it stands, employers can’t tell if somebody gobbled ganja an hour ago or the night before.  Second-hand inhalation could be problematic too.


Other Legal Sensitivities

What can be done with an employee who’s consistently wasted? Good question. In a “safety-sensitive” job, such as ambulance driver, miner, or construction worker, the law may support termination (after sufficient warnings and chances for improvement).


If, however, that person is substance dependent, Human Rights laws kick in. Addiction is considered a disability. So there’s a duty to try and accommodate.


Discipline is another contentious front. If someone’s performance plummets, or they stare at their hand entranced while a colleague gets injured, punishment is acceptable. How about if they do good work but giggle unnervingly all day? Or an important client loves the bizarre change to pantomiming presentations?


Start Preparing

Employees won’t suddenly be asking for “reeferances” or executive “roaching.” What’ll probably happen is an uptick in people coming to work high on hemp, especially when legalization first hits. The novelty might wear off quickly after the initial buzz.


Take steps now to get ready. Follow provincial updates on workplace regulations. Take a look at HRPA’s report on marijuana (cheekily titled “Clearing the Haze”). Preventing mishaps and avoiding legal fallout will be worth their weight in Acapulco gold.