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Clearing the haze around work and pot

A few employer guidelines around cannabis use on the job

It’s here! Right in time for Halloween, yet it’s no ghoulish joke. It’s for real! Yes, the long-awaited cannabis legalization is finally here, and there is indeed excitement in the air. A positive excitement on one hand, and a sincere lack of enthusiasm and eagerness on the other. In fact, for some employers, it’s more like confusion and fear.

For those enthusiasts, it’s the ability to legally use cannabis and/or the many job opportunities arising because of this new, never-before tested cannabis industry. This includes several manufacturing jobs at all levels including product specialists, researchers, audit personnel, testing and administrative staff, such as human resource managers and finance professionals.

Apparently, there’s even a new job category called "pot sommelier", which parallels the highly qualified professional who recommends wine to pair with your dinner. Instead of wine, the pot sommelier uses their trained eye to evaluate the cannabis bud and will steer you toward the best.

Soon-to-be-open recreational pot shops have also been popping up all over town as ardent cannabis supporters scramble to enter the legal retail business. They’re hoping to make some quick money from legalized cannabis before the trend fades away. So, regardless of which way you look, cannabis is hitting us like a storm and will soon create a boon to the national job stats.

On the other hand, there’s employers, who not only lack enthusiasm, but are often confused and annoyed with having to adjust to new legislation, and having to pay attention to all the extra work and diligence the issue of cannabis is causing. In fact, employers of all kinds, along with professional associations, are standing in line, trying to solidify their knowledge of what’s what.

Add on all those property owners, hotel operators and facility managers who experience a daily mix of tenants, employees, guests and attendees at various events. What is the impact on these organizations? What are their rights? In other words, what’s what?

As you, too, may be experiencing, I have more questions than answers, but I can give some guidance on what to look for, as you move through these new changes.

Training: Retail stores are busy training their sales force on all the little details of THC content/cannabis quality and the effects; however, most other employers do not need this level of information.

There are only three things you need to know. Firstly, you need to know and be able to recognize the signs of impairment. Secondly, you need to know how to assess and determine whether or not your employee is fit for work. Thirdly, you need to know and be able to apply the human resource policies and be compliant with human rights legislation regarding how to manage an employee who is not deemed fit for work.

Policy upgrades: You will need to review your human resource policies to determine if your current policy is broad enough to be inclusive of cannabis-related issues. If your policy only applies to alcohol use, then make this more inclusive by adding drug and substance abuse, as this will cover the use of cannabis.

At the same time, you need to examine the nature of your work. For instance, police officers, firefighters and paramedics are key personnel to our many emergencies and must be fit for work at all times. Therefore, these organizations are busy trying to make a determination regarding off-shift consumption because of the longer-lasting effects of cannabis. Do you have specific jobs where this consideration must be made? Keep in mind that being fit for duty is a critical issue in this case.

Medical cannabis: Some employees have a true medical need for and have authorization from their physician for medical cannabis. In this case, employers need to dig deeper by asking the physician about the symptoms or behaviours that can be expected as a result of medication taken to treat the disability. They need to know how this will impact employees’ ability to do their jobs.

For instance, should the employer prevent employees from any part of their duties immediately after their use of medical marijuana? You need to know these facts. Prior to speaking to the doctor, develop a special checklist of behaviours and symptoms for each situation, and require periodic updates as deemed necessary.

On the other hand, questions will arise related to social issues, such as where employees using medical cannabis can or should smoke. If they use the regular designated smoking area, are they affecting others with passive smoke inhalation? Or, if you isolate these employees by sending them to another location, are you breaching their privacy? All of these are serious questions, but no matter which way you look at it, the employer has the duty to protect the safety of all employees.

Drug testing policies: The landscape for random drug and alcohol testing is complicated and it is still under scrutiny. This puts employers in a difficult position as they wait for government’s decision on mandatory workplace drug testing.

Not only that, tests for cannabis have yet to be perfected. However, there are agencies and businesses that do conduct tests for drugs such as the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba. Yet caution must be taken when choosing a private testing business, especially since one Winnipeg company has recently been charged with fraud for allegedly faking drug tests for truck drivers. The key is, just who are the certified, recognized test organizations? Where can you obtain a list? And, will cost go up due to demand?

Student employment: Many organizations hire summer students and interns of some kind. With this in mind, employers need to know that people under the age of 19 are not allowed to smoke cannabis in Manitoba. At the same time, if the employer has offices in other provinces, you need to know that other provinces have different rules regarding age. For instance, Alberta allows cannabis at 18.

Employee travel: For positions that require travel to different provinces and/or countries, you need to ensure your employees are aware of the regulations regarding cannabis possession, as well as the legislation in the location they are travelling to. Be sure you are also aware of the new Manitoba legislation that prohibits cannabis use in public places and in motor vehicles, as well as the requirement to store it in a secure compartment, similar to alcohol.

The whole area of cannabis in the workplace is confusing. There are provincial, as well as federal, laws specific to cannabis and this is all tied into other current legislation such as human rights, workplace health and safety, privacy and others.

To be honest, I am sure many employers feel like they are standing in quicksand… every time they turn around, there’s another nugget of information to be considered.

However, it all boils down to the fact that once employees begin their job, they are the responsibility of the employer. Thus, employers need to ensure all of their employees come to work ready, are able to work and that they continue to be fit for work at all times. Keeping this in mind might mitigate the current cannabis hype.

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