Pubdate: Wed, 08 Feb 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Brenda Bouw
Page: B15


Employers have to strike the right balance between employee rights and
the need to operate an efficient workplace

Companies are being urged to create or update their drug and alcohol
policies in light of the growing use of pot for medical purposes and
the pending legalization of marijuana in Canada.

The recent incident of an allegedly impaired Sunwing Airlines pilot,
who was removed from the cockpit of a plane as it was getting ready to
fly out of Calgary, also served as a reminder to organizations why
it's important to have a policy on how to deal with employees who are
drunk or high on the job.

"My recommendation is to have one policy which deals with the use of
drugs and alcohol; the thrust of it is usually that you're not
supposed to be using or under the influence at work, and then a
sub-aspect that deals with prescription medication," says Stuart
Rudner, an employment lawyer with Toronto-based Rudner MacDonald LLP.

While it's common for companies to have drug-and-alcohol policies for
employees operating heavy equipment or machinery, organizations across
industries are also establishing policy to help maintain workplace
productivity. Substance abuse cost the Canadian economy about
$40-billion in lost productivity as far back as 2002 (the latest
statistics available), according to a 2006 report published by the
Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

Since being founded more than three years ago, Canopy Growth Corp.,
Canada's largest cannabis producer, has laid out some ground rules
around how employees with medical marijuana prescriptions can use the
drug on the job.

Employees can't medicate at their desks (the company has private areas
for that) and they must let a supervisor know if they're feeling
unwell after medicating. Managers must also ensure the employee
doesn't operate any heavy equipment or machinery while impaired, which
could put them in danger.

"For a company like ours, it goes both ways; we need to respect and
encourage that the right policies are in place to allow people to
medicate at work," says Mark Zekulin, president of Smiths Falls,
Ont.-based Canopy. "But we also can't fall into the stereotypical
cannabis company. There can't be people smoking joints at the front
door. As leaders, we wanted to have [the policy]."

It's tricky for employers to balance employees' rights and well-being,
including possible addiction issues, with the company's need to
operate a safe and productive workplace.

"Employees can't automatically be fired for showing up drunk or high
at work," Mr. Rudner says. Companies can take disciplinary action, he
says, especially if employees pose a risk to themselves or others.

"Just because you don't have a policy doesn't mean you can't take
action, but you're going to be in a stronger position if you have a
very clear policy that has been communicated to employees," says Mr.
Rudner, who also wrote the book, You're Fired! Just Cause for
Dismissal in Canada.

Employers dealing with an employee who is drunk or high on the job
need to document a conversation on the problem and outline steps that
include how the employee plans to handle the issue, Mr. Rudner says.
If the employee suffers from an addiction, they will need to be

"You can't discriminate against people who have a disability, and
having a substance abuse problem is a disability," says Jennifer
Newman, a Vancouver-based workplace psychologist with Newman
Psychological and Consulting Services.

Having a policy is important, but Ms. Newman says it needs to be
properly communicated to employees. Managers should also receive some
training on how to use it.

Niki Lundquist, a lawyer with Unifor, Canada's largest private sector
union, says employers need to be strict with their policies, but also
compassionate when dealing with employees, which includes
accommodating any medical issues or addictions.

"If someone is coming to work drunk, it's usually indicative of a
pretty serious problem," Ms. Lundquist says. "Employers should deal
with these issues as we would any other kind of issue that requires us
to respond in a humane way to a problem that may well be related to a

Policies should also vary depending on the workplace, Ms. Lundquist
says. For instance, a company that uses heavy equipment would likely
have a different, stricter policy than a technology startup.

"There isn't one type of workplace and the result of someone being
impaired is different from workplace to workplace," Ms. Lundquist says.
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MAP posted-by: Matt