Employers urged to prepare for Cannabis Act

Employers won’t have to permit the recreational use of cannabis in the workplace but they will have to revisit current guidelines.

Employers urged to prepare for Cannabis Act
April 13, the federal government made a significant step towards legalizing marijuana when it introduced the Cannabis Act – however, while the amendment has been praised by many, some employers have been left wondering how their workplace drug policies will stand up.

“Employers are currently assessing what the proposed legislation means for them and their business,” says Daryl Cukierman, a partner with corporate law firm Blake, Cassels & Graydon.

“If the legislation passes, it can be expected that employee attitudes may change regarding what constitutes acceptable workplace behaviour,” he warns.

While employee attitudes may change, employer expectations might not have to – Cukierman says organizations will still be within their rights to ban the use of recreational cannabis in the workplace.

“The Cannabis Act does not require an employer to allow employees to use cannabis for ‎recreational purposes at work,” says Cukierman. “Employers will therefore continue to have the ability to prohibit the use of recreational cannabis in the workplace.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that current policies can stay the same.

“Employer expectations about the relationship between cannabis use and the workplace should be clearly communicated to employees, and updates to workplace policies may be required,” Cukierman tells HRM.

According to the Toronto-based employment lawyer, examples of workplace policies which should be reviewed include those related to possession and use of alcohol and drugs at work, those related to reporting the use of drugs for medical purposes that could lead to potential impairment, drug and alcohol testing policies, occupational health and safety policies related to both smoking at work and workplace impairment, vehicle use policies, and client entertainment and social host policies.

Cukierman says drug testing policies may become particularly pertinent if the Cannabis Act leads to increased usage by employees – however, he says employers must be wary of violating employment law.

“As with testing for other substances that can impair an employee's ability to perform his or her duties safely and effectively, employers seeking to implement cannabis testing should carefully consider the legality of the testing and the testing methods to be used,” he says.

If passed, the Cannabis Act is likely to come into force at some point before July 1, 2018 – while it’s still some time away, Cukierman urges employers to begin their review process now.

“Employers would be wise to start considering now if they need to be implementing any changes to their workplace policies and procedures in preparation for the new legislation,” he tells HRM.

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