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Preparing for the legalization of marijuana (part 2)

Some practical tips and suggestions for employers
Powered By Canadian HR ReporterWorkplace - HR Policies||Written By Brian Kreissl
Preparing for the legalization of marijuana (part 2)
People take turns smoking from a large joint at the annual 4/20 marijuana event in Vancouver on April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Redmond

Last week, I discussed some of the issues surrounding the pending legalization of marijuana in the workplace. This week, I am going to concentrate more on specific tips and strategies for employers — particularly with respect to employment policies and programs.

Huge policy changes shouldn’t generally be required in relation to legalized marijuana. However, the following policies should probably be reviewed, tweaked and updated in light of the fact that marijuana is set to be legalized:

Non-smoking policies

Every jurisdiction in Canada has legislation banning smoking from all or most workplaces. Because many people seem to treat smoking marijuana like smoking tobacco, employers need to spell out to their employees that smoking pot or other forms of cannabis on a smoke break (either on or off the premises) is prohibited, as is showing up for work in a state of intoxication. For that reason, non-smoking policies should be updated to include reference to recreational and medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana doesn’t always result in the same degree of impairment, and employers may need to allow employees to consume it during work hours (but not indoors) as part of their duty to accommodate. Nevertheless, it is probably best not to have such individuals perform work in a highly safety-sensitive environment.

Substance abuse policies

Many organizations have policies prohibiting intoxication on the job through “alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs,” or similar wording. The problem is this doesn’t recognize the legalization of marijuana.

Therefore, it makes sense to include some wording prohibiting intoxication through recreational marijuana. It may also make sense to mention the legalization of marijuana specifically to remind employees that the employer takes a dim view of intoxication on the job even in the case of legal substances.

It is also quite common to have a “zero tolerance policy” for possession of drugs and alcohol on company property or consumption while on duty. While it is still acceptable to take a hard line against intoxication and possession — particularly in a safety-sensitive environment — the wording of such policies will likely need to be updated.

It is important to remember the duty to accommodate in relation to medical marijuana, and it is a good idea to provide coverage for medical marijuana obtained on a prescription through benefits plans. However, this does not necessarily mean that employers need to allow individuals with a medical marijuana prescription to show up to work stoned.

Safe driving policies

Canadian criminal law has long recognized the dangers of driving while high, and new standards for driving under the influence of cannabis have been introduced. Just like alcohol, consuming pot can cause intoxication, impair judgement and slow reaction time. For these reasons, employers should make it clear to employees that driving under the influence of marijuana will not be tolerated.

This applies not only with respect to employees who drive as part of their job duties, but also after social activities, company events, client and off-site meetings and holiday parties. This is particularly important to remember given that marijuana legalization is likely to remove much of the stigma surrounding its consumption. No longer will smoking pot be considered something on the margins of society or part of some fringe counterculture.

While I don’t exactly foresee many high-level business deals being executed over a shared joint or two — particularly not indoors in a boardroom or similar environment — I can see a lot more informal business meetings and gatherings such as golf outings or a round of drinks concluding over a spliff. This can be a problem when people get behind the wheel afterwards.

Communicating and enforcing policies

Communicating revised policies to employees will be important given that attitudes towards the consumption of cannabis are likely to change and become more accepting of marijuana use. Employees need to be reminded that smoking marijuana leads to intoxication, can negatively impact productivity, is often viewed as unprofessional and can even be dangerous in some situations.

Above all else, employees need to understand that smoking pot isn’t like smoking a cigarette and is more analogous to alcohol use. As I mentioned last week, employers don’t generally allow employees to show up to work drunk or consume alcohol on the job, so they shouldn’t allow them to show up stoned or consume marijuana at work either.

This should be spelled out not only in an employee handbook, but also be communicated to employees specifically through e-mails and other communications.