By: Eloho Ennah

The recent legalization of non-medical cannabis in British Columbia opened conversations about the use of cannabis in the workplace. 36% of firms surveyed by the Conference Board of Canada were still concerned about the influence of cannabis in the workplace as of July 2019.

Employers worry about how impairment from cannabis consumption can impact productivity and general safety in the workplace. Impairment is challenging to measure, and there is no current consensus on safe limits for consuming cannabis. Employers are advised to heed with caution when drug testing employees. Canadian Human Rights Commission recommends “relying on observation, supervision, and frequent face-to-face conversations as the more effective way to recognize when an employee is impaired.”

A zero-tolerance policy is not desirable since employers are obligated to accommodate the use of cannabis for medical reasons, as stated by the Canadian Human Rights Acts.

In a report by the Human Resources Professionals Association (HPRA) on the impacts of marijuana in the workplace, Parisa Nikfarjam, an employment lawyer, says, “Employers should be cautioned from making stereotypical assumptions about the abilities of an employee who has been prescribed medical marijuana. While some assumptions may be valid where safety is a concern (such as driving), it may be improper to, for example, diminish an employee’s duties based solely on assumed impairment.”

Zach Walsh, associate professor of Psychology at UBCO, agrees with this statement and explains that “impairment associated with cannabis consumption varies dramatically according to tolerance and experience among other factors. Medical users who are treating a potentially debilitating condition may actually be less impaired if their symptoms are being managed by cannabis.”

When it comes to recreational cannabis use, employers should be clear about their workplace expectations. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety urges employers to set “comprehensive substance use policies that balance disciplinary and supportive elements help employers manage risk and support legislated human rights.”

Information from a recent Kelowna Employer Forum hosted by Kent Employment Law (KEL)’s Kelowna office reiterates that employers should start implementing drug and alcohol policies and also consider in-house training programs on substance use and impairment in the workplace.

In light of the information above, employers are advised to implement or revise policies on cannabis consumption in the workplace to promote a welcoming, accepting and safe environment for all staff members.