The push for workplace policy revisions to address recreational cannabis

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The push for workplace policy revisions to address recreational cannabis
WATCH: Labour lawyers say there's a big push for companies to revise their workplace policies ahead of the legalization of recreational marijuana – Sep 25, 2018

Is your workplace ready for the legalization of recreational marijuana? If so, does every employee know what approach is being taken by the company once Canadians are allowed to legally consume cannabis come Oct. 17?

“Ultimately this is about impairment and the reality that no employee can be impaired at work,” said Mark Cooper, president of the Saskatchewan Construction Association (SCA).

As one of largest industries in the province, SCA is pushing for its members to revisit their policies in order to maintain safety at worksites. The construction industry employs roughly 53,000 people in Saskatchewan.

“Most companies have some kind of drug policy in place or some kind of workplace policy impairment policy in place,” Cooper said.

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“But the question is ‘Is that policy robust enough, is it modernized?’ That’s really what we’re working with employers to do.”

Cooper said it’s also about building a culture of safety on different job sites and treating employees with respect in the process.

Jon Danyliw, labour lawyer with Miller Thomson LLP. File / Global News

According to Jon Danyliw, a labour lawyer with Miller Thomson LLP in Saskatoon, only about 50 per cent of the companies he’s encountered have policies that are up-to-date.

“Some have it broken down into alcohol, illegal drugs and other medications that might cause impairment so technically, in that situation, once cannabis becomes legal it wouldn’t fall into any of those categories,” Danyliw added.

Danyliw said another 10 per cent of companies have policy revisions on their radar and 40 per cent don’t have one at all.

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“If something were to happen at the workplace and somebody was injured because somebody was impaired,” he explained.

“If you do have a policy and Occupational Health and Safety becomes involved, that’s the first thing an employer will point to and say we tried to do everything we could to prevent something like this ‘the first step was to create this policy.'”

By developing a new policy or defining and documenting changes to an existing one, rules regarding recreational cannabis should be crystal clear.

“Employers can’t tell their employees what they can and cannot do off duty,” Danyliw said.

“However, if that’s going to affect their ability to come to work and do their job properly or safely then the employers can outline here’s what our expectations are when you show up to work and obviously not being impaired by any substance is going to be one of those expectations.”

This is known as fitness for duty. Danyliw also noted policies shouldn’t incorporate any wording suggesting an employee would be fired on the spot if they show up to work believed to be impaired.

“That’s the problem some employers have, they want to put ‘If you come to work high, you’re gone,'” Danyliw added.

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“There still has to be some investigation and if it is serious enough for the person to be terminated from their employment or is there another way to correct this situation in the future.”

Zero tolerance policies aren’t always the right approach, said Danyliw, since companies still need to take medicinal users into account.

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