As Canada looks to legalize marijuana next year, many employers are still unsure about how to prepare for what happens when the legislation takes effect, according to a recent study by the Human Resources Professionals Association.
In a recent survey of its members, it found 45 per cent of respondents don’t believe their workplace policies adequately address the issues that may arise from the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Employers have two major concerns about the change, says Scott Allinson, vice-president of public affairs at the HRPA. The first is uncertainty about how to implement guidelines in the workplace, he notes. The second concern is the lack of a clear legal definition of impairment for marijuana, as well as rules around the circumstances under which employers can perform drug testing on employees.
The HRPA report noted employers’ concerns about employees operating motor vehicles and using heavy machinery; decreased work performance; higher absences; and disciplinary procedures. It also included several recommendations for employers, government and policy-makers to consider.
One suggestion is for a zero tolerance policy for the drug in workplaces where safety is paramount, says Allinson. As well, workplaces that permit marijuana should have a limit on how much tetrahydrocannabinol employees may have in their system, he says.
While employers usually have policies for other substances like alcohol, it’s not as easy to establish them for marijuana because individuals react to the chemical differently and determining an appropriate limit is more ambiguous, the report noted.
It also argued that provincial governments should co-ordinate their rules around recreational marijuana. There needs to be a standardized approach so that national employers can easily follow the rules, says Allinson. “You don’t want to have different jurisdictions that have more stringent rules or lax rules.”
As well, employers want guidance on how to address the unique issues around medical and recreational marijuana in the workplace, according to the report. While some organizations have already added the drug to their benefits plans, only 11 per cent of employers have a policy in place to address it.
There should be two regulatory streams for medical and recreational marijuana so employers can determine their duty to accommodate, says Allinson. He notes that while there are clear regulations for medical marijuana, the approach to the recreational drug is still “up in the air.”
While the government has set up a special task force on cannabis legislation and regulation, it hasn’t given employers solid guidance on how to implement policies in the workplace, according to Allinson. “What the government is doing is not being stringent,” says Allinson. “They’re basically looking at what the best practices are. What we’re saying is, ‘That’s great,’ but there needs to be some ground rules and on the impairment side of it, that’s what we want to know. What is the definition of impairment when it comes to cannabis?”
Apart from Uruguay, which legalized recreational marijuana this month, Canada is the only country to permit the drug on a national level, according to the HRPA.
“It’s crucial that the government, employers and employees have a role to play in this. And the fact is that this is sort of the Wild West now,” says Allinson. “This is new ground. So I think we just want to be sure that we’re all working together to come out with the best positive outcome for employers and employees to be safe in the workplace and this doesn’t cause any impairment for the employer.”