Pubdate: Sat, 18 Nov 2017
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2017 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Barbara Bowes
Page: B10


THE flurry of news articles on the upcoming legalization of cannabis
is everywhere, and seems to be creating substantial fear among most

Much of this fear, of course, is about having to deal with the
unknown. For instance, will recreational cannabis use increase among
employees and how will this impact the workplace? What about medical
marijuana? Are employers ready for this new challenge? Will current
policies stand the test against cannabis?

Interestingly enough, a recent report by the Human Resources
Professionals Association of Ontario and the consulting firm Deloitte
suggests that 22 per cent of Canadian adults already consume
recreational cannabis.

Their survey went on to indicate that another 17 per cent of
respondents were willing to try cannabis once legislation is passed.

Therefore, many HR professionals are anticipating the new legislation
will bring several economic, regulatory, social and health challenges
to our workplaces that we are currently not addressing.

The Deloitte project, for instance, surveyed the membership of the
Ontario Human Resources Association and identified that 45 per cent of
respondents did not believe their current workplace policies addressed
the potential new issues that will arise with the upcoming
recreational cannabis legislation.

The study identified four areas of concern including safety in the
workplace, the employer's duty to accommodate, the impacts on drug
benefit plans and the issue of drug testing.

One of the key employee safety concerns raised in the survey was the
issue of employees driving.

Cannabis is known to cause a wide spectrum of different effects on
people, ranging from overall happiness to a lack of concentration and
impaired memory. That's because the THC ingredient found in cannabis
is quickly absorbed by the brain, with impairment peaking within 20 to
40 minutes after inhaling, or 1.15 hours after consumption.

The second area of HR concerns related to the issue of accommodation
for disabilities that may be treated through the use of cannabis.

This was especially so when considering the common mistake made when
people make assumptions regarding an employee's ability to do a job
and what type of accommodations are required.

At the same time, medical marijuana has actually been legal since
2001, and workplace policies and procedures for medical marijuana have
been put in place and are the same as any other prescription
medication in the workplace. So, while HR professionals and managers
are spending time worrying and debating issues such as frequency of
use, Tracey Epp, a partner with the Pitblado Law firm, suggests that
the issue of impairment in the workplace is not new, and so the
introduction of cannabis is really no different than that of alcohol.

In other words, medical and/or general marijuana users are not
entitled to attend work impaired. Every employee must arrive at work
sober and ready.

Therefore, subject to medical conditions, employers will still be
entitled to discipline an employee when their use of recreational
marijuana has an adverse impact on their job performance, when this
use contravenes legislation and/or when this use and possession is
contrary to an organization's established policy.

Organizations are also concerned that more employees will acquire a
medical prescription, thus putting extra cost pressures on benefit
plans. There are also potential human rights risks for the denial of

For instance, at least one decision from Nova Scotia has already
concluded that failure to include marijuana in drug coverage may be

At the very least, organizations need to be having discussions with
their benefit providers.

Finally, HR professionals have growing concerns about the issue of
drug testing, especially for safety-sensitive positions.

The challenge for management is that there is little supportive
research on the longer-term effects of marijuana.

In other words, there is no answer to the question of whether someone
who used marijuana one day previously would still be impaired the next

Currently, the federal government has recently proposed that 5ng/100ml
of blood or 2ng/100ml of blood mixed with 50ng of alcohol per 100ml of
blood as the definition of criminal impairment. However, these numbers
have yet to be tested. There is currently no available, accurate drug
test for cannabis impairment.

Therefore, if any new policy was to be instituted, employers need to
carefully examine and present a legitimate concern for workplace
safety and as well be sure to give consideration to the issue of
employee privacy.

The best bet is to continue monitoring the issue and revising drug
testing policies so that you are current with legislation and best

On the other hand, this lack of accurate drug testing for cannabis
suggests that the best solution at this time is to apply the same
proof of cannabis impairment as you would use for alcohol impairment
in the workplace.

This includes confirming signs of impairment such as bloodshot eyes,
obvious sleepiness, a sense of lethargy, a lack of coordination,
confusion, a lack of focus and/or obvious memory impairment and
misjudging time.

At the same time, Epp points out that another challenge for employers
is simply the acceptance of the fact that society has embraced and
normalized marijuana and although everyone has their own personal
assumptions about it, the legislation is well on its way and must be
integrated into our workplace policies and practices.

She also suggests that it is not the role of human resources
professionals to be rooting out and punishing cannabis abusers, it's
more about ensuring a safe workplace and getting people help, should
it be needed, so that they are ready and able to perform their work.

Therefore, although Epp doesn't believe this new legislation will have
a significant impact on current workplaces overall, she suggests there
are still things that can and should be done to ensure corporate readiness.

The first thing is to get educated. Secondly, she suggests new
legislation is an excellent time to review your corporate human
resources policies, especially since they may not have been updated
for some time.

Determine if the policies are compliant with current legislation and
what needs to be done to bring them up to date for the new

In particular, take note of your requirements for safety- and
non-safety-sensitive positions, and your policy regarding smoking in
the workplace as well as accommodation at work.

As an HR professional, I certainly sense the wave of fear that's
flooding the thoughts of management. However, in my view, management
needs to take the lead on helping their organizations embrace this
upcoming change.

It's time to rethink and resurrect your change-management

Determine which strategies would work to quickly get management and
employee understanding and buy-in of this new legislative change. Is
it possible to create a focus group of managers to review your
policies, discuss potential risks and recommend changes as required?

Finally, treat this new legislation the same as you would with any
other change that might impact the operation of your organization.
Don't panic, get educated, review changes when necessary and act.

- - Sources: Interview with Tracey Epp, Lawyer, Pitblado Law Firm; 
Cannabis Legislation in the workplace, Tracey Epp; Clearing the Haze, 
The Impacts of Marijunana in theWorkplace, 2017.
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MAP posted-by: Matt