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Legal recreational marijuana: how can you address the workplace risks?

Legal recreational cannabis Canada

Did you know?

More than half of employers are concerned about how the legalization of recreational marijuana will affect their workplaces and the risks they may face, according to new research by the Conference Board of Canada.
What about you?

Employers’ biggest concerns with respect to recreational marijuana and work are:

  1. Workplace safety — especially in safety-sensitive roles
  2. Impairment or intoxication
  3. Increased use of cannabis — both inside and outside the workplace
  4. Workplace drug testing for impairment — what’s legal?
  5. Accommodation needs and costs for addiction and prescribed use
  6. Productivity, motivation, absenteeism, presenteeism and employee performance

Additional issues employers face include:

  • Updating or creating effective and compliant marijuana policies and procedures and implementing them
  • Ensuring employees and contractors read, understand and follow your policies and procedures
  • Understanding and defining cannabis impairment and intoxication
  • Training management, supervisors and staff how to identify impairment and respond

The Conference Board report finds the concerns are justified given the uncertainties and lack of evidence when it comes to evaluating impairment from cannabis use.

The effects of THC on the human body are different and less predictable than the effects of alcohol, and impairment due to cannabis use is more difficult to establish. For example, a frequent cannabis user might have recently ingested the drug and have more than 5 nG/mL of THC in his or her bloodstream, but not be impaired.

Employers must do something to address the hazards of recreational cannabis use

An employee using marijuana can have an adverse impact on the employer’s business, clients, associates and the public.

Employers should become aware of the various hazards associated with marijuana use and develop strategies to prevent and control them.

These hazards include:

  • Employee and customer safety
  • Damage to property and reputation
  • Excessive or unnecessary costs due to damages, injuries, penalties, etc.
  • Drug abuse and addiction
  • Unauthorized cannabis consumption
  • Untrained or insufficiently trained management, supervisors and staff
  • Policy and procedure failures
  • Managing employees’ authorized use of medical marijuana
  • Cannabis at work-related special events (e.g., where alcohol might be consumed)

Judging by this broad list, when recreational cannabis becomes legal on October 17, 2018, employers will face a set of significant new compliance challenges that will require them to update their policies and practices on drug and alcohol use, code of conduct, fitness for work, accommodation of disabilities and progressive discipline, and maybe others.

Two days until legalization

With the law coming into effect soon, it’s essential for employers to start assessing the risks of employee marijuana use that are unique to their workplaces, updating their HR practices and providing their supervisors and managers with proper training on the new rules right away.

It’s also important to know that written rules are not enough. Written policies and procedures on marijuana and work are an essential component of complying with the law, protecting your organization from risk and meeting your duty of care, but they must be combined with action to truly effectively reduce risk and demonstrate due diligence.

To meet their duty of care, employers must:

  • Take active steps to foresee specific risks
  • Conduct regular training
  • Develop, implement, review and update policies and procedures
  • Ensure employees and contractors read and understand their policies and procedures
  • Conduct inspections and audits to ensure their practices are being followed
  • Promptly act on risks that come up
  • Make and keep detailed written records

What kind of help do you need managing legalized recreational marijuana?

If you’re looking for help understanding the new legal environment and what it means for your organization, download our free special report, Recreational marijuana and the workplace: Policies and best practices to comply with the law and protect your business to learn the basics, then consult The Human Resources Advisor—Ontario, Atlantic or Western editions—for a more in-depth discussion on compliance and best practices on the topic of recreational and medicinal marijuana in the workplace.

The Human Resources Advisor helps employers understand in greater detail:

  • The issues with the use of recreational marijuana
  • The federal and provincial frameworks for the production, distribution, sale, possession and use of recreational marijuana
  • The effects of the legalization of recreational cannabis on employers
  • Managing the use of recreational marijuana in the workplace
  • The 10 essential components of legally sound policy and change management, which includes:
    • Assessing hazards related to the use of recreational marijuana in the workplace
    • Auditing practices and reviewing recreational marijuana policies
    • Education and training
    • Responding to impairment at work
  • Medical marijuana in the workplace
  • Accommodation of marijuana dependency, addiction or medical use

In addition, we are adding and updating sample policies dealing with the use of recreational marijuana in PolicyProPlus to help you implement your health and safety program to manage and control the use of marijuana in the workplace. Besides providing essential sample policies and procedures to speed up your policy implementation,  PolicyProPlus also offers a platform to:

  • Ensure your staff and contractors have read and understood your policies
  • Store and access your policies
  • Keep records of which employees have read the required policies and send notifications to those who haven’t
  • Demonstrate that you’ve met your duty of care

Human Resources PolicyProYou can try The Human Resources Advisor and PolicyProPlus for free today.

Let us know how your plans to deal with the legalization of recreational marijuana are coming together and where you’re facing challenges. We are happy to help!

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Adam Gorley

Adam Gorley is a copywriter, editor and researcher at First Reference. He contributes regularly to First Reference Talks, Inside Internal Controls and other First Reference publications. He writes about general HR issues, accessibility, privacy, technology in the workplace, accommodation, violence and harassment, internal controls and more. Read more
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