Skip to Main Content

Updating Workplace Policies

Just as the legalization of recreational cannabis is shaking up society’s attitudes towards the substance, it will challenge our fundamental workplace policies.

According to a recent study conducted by Deloitte, 22% of adult Canadians consume cannabis recreationally on occasion, and a further 17% have indicated that they are curious about trying it.

When we break these figures down and look closely at the largest generation in Canada’s workforce—people born between 1980 and 2000, the millennials—we see an even higher percentage that are receptive to trying it. A study of millennials revealed that nearly three out of four not only backed legalization, but also are willing to sample it in different forms, including vaporizing (38%), candy (40%), topical lotions (49%), and edibles (52%). However, 40% of those taking part in the study believed that cannabis could lead to impaired performance at work.

A Rising Tide of Consumers

According to Health Canada, the number of Canadians that registered for medical use hit 270,000 in 2017. With the number of users rising due to legalization, it’s little wonder that employers are worried. The Conference Board of Canada reports that over 50% of Canadian employers have expressed concern over the implications of legal cannabis in the workplace.

This puts business leaders in a position where they have to reconsider workplace policies, and possibly implement new ones to ensure that they offer a safe, productive and inclusive work environment for their employees. How can they go about this?

At the heart of the issue is the definition of the word “impairment”. Employers need to be clear on what constitutes impairment. Just as it’s not permitted for employees to be intoxicated while on the job, it shouldn’t be acceptable to be high to the point where it negatively affects performance. Any procedures for handling suspected impairment should follow consistent, proper protocols. These could include incident reports, disciplinary measures, and appropriate corrective action.

Over 50% of Canadian employers have expressed concern over the implications of legal cannabis in the workplace.

Although smoke-free laws apply to cannabis, any associated workplace policies should be updated to include it. Many employers also accommodate people with allergies, and so have regulations that govern the use of scents. These should be looked at again to see if it’s appropriate to include any complaints related to cannabis.

Can We Depend on Technology?

Depending on the nature of the business, it may be reasonable to implement a testing policy to measure levels of possible impairment, especially if particular jobs have important safety requirements. This could be tricky for employers. Technology still has to catch up with this new era of legalization. Presently, a person can be tested for the presence of THC in their bloodstream, but this does not accurately measure any level of impairment.

Health plan options should also be reevaluated, and employers should speak with their providers to investigate expanding their traditional group benefit plans. In February of 2018, Sun Life announced that is was adding medical cannabis coverage to group plans, and Manulife also offers something similar on a selective basis. Even organizations such as the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, The University of Waterloo, and Loblaws have brought similar policies onboard. Some of the important factors to consider should include clear eligibility conditions and annual fund limits, solely to limit any ambiguity further down the line.

Is Zero Tolerance the Way Forward?

Regardless of an employer’s personal beliefs, a zero tolerance policy is not a feasible stance to adopt. There are a lot of potential grounds for discrimination against employees who use medical cannabis to treat illnesses. More importantly, as a business leader, it’s vital that your workplace policies are inclusive and fair.

Legalization of recreational cannabis is at the leading edge of a host of changes, not simply regulatory. With the rise of millennials in Canada’s workforce, social media as a way for business to engage with and be accountable to their customers, and the ongoing transformation of how we can be productive due to technology, we’re at a nexus of opportunity. It’s a time when business leaders should take this extraordinary moment in time to redefine their culture, shake up their operations, and strengthen the connections they have with their teams.