More guidance on substance use policies required as pot legalization nears: report

Companies are falling short when it comes to having comprehensive policies on substance use, according to a new report by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.

The report, which is based on a review of about 800 companies, interviews with experts and responses to an online survey, aimed to analyze and provide a general overview of the state of workplace policies on substance use as Canada moves towards the legalization and regulation of cannabis this summer. It found that while most respondents had a specific policy on employee alcohol and drug use, there’s a particular gap when it comes to medical marijuana. It was the only substance that the majority (55 per cent) of respondents indicated wasn’t part of their organization’s policy on substance use.

While the report’s key findings suggest that not enough organizations have policies on substance use, it also found that, where they do exist, there’s often an imbalance between disciplinary measures and supports to help employees.

Read: Workplace safety leading HR issue as marijuana legalization approaches: HRPA

“From our report, we know that Canadian employers and employees have lots of questions and concerns about workplace policies surrounding substance use,” said Rita Notarandrea, chief executive officer of the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.

“Harmful substance use can have an impact on an individual’s health, on productivity, absenteeism, turnover and workplace morale, not to mention the potential impact on the health and safety of other employees, particularly in safety-sensitive industries.”

Among the report’s encouraging findings, it found some Canadian organizations are taking positive steps towards addressing substance use that affects the workplace, including recognizing addiction as a disability and offering accommodation options. Other organizations provide education and training to their employees and management about their policies, how to look for potential impairment and guidelines pertaining to support and return-to-work options.

The legalization and regulation of cannabis is a concern among the majority of participating employers, according to the report, which noted some organizations have been proactive and are amending policies to reflect the upcoming legislative changes. Others, however, are unsure about how to move forward.

Read: Tips for employers to prepare for legalization of recreational marijuana

“Of particular concern is the difficulty in determining impairment by cannabis,” the report stated.

“Substance testing of bodily fluids . . . does not indicate impairment, as the drug remains in an individual’s system for an extended period of time. Other steps must be taken to determine impairment, such as observation and medical review.

“During occasions where [the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction] has discussed the issue with various employers or presented the findings from this study, a number of employers expressed a desire for more guidance from federal, provincial and territorial governments on how they can manage the change in the legal status of cannabis. In particular, several organizations suggested that a national standard on policies pertaining to substance use, including cannabis, would be useful. Although national guidance or standards might help, organizations still need to create policies and best practices that are tailored to their specific needs.”

The report also found that both workplace culture and employee commitment to recovery are critical to reducing substance use that affects the workplace. It suggested policies and best practices will be most effective in an environment that discourages substance use, discrimination, stigma and potential prejudice.

“Workplace environments that stigmatize substance use disorders rather than create a culture of trust might make employees affected by substance use more reluctant to disclose any potential issues,” the report stated.

Read: Canadian employers must evaluate effectiveness of substance misuse policies: report