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Still Hazy? Post-Cannabis Legalization Considerations for Employers

Oct 17, 2018
Monika Slovinec D’Angelo Monika Slovinec D’Angelo
Health & Wellness Research
Bill Howatt Bill Howatt
Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Howatt HR Consulting Inc.

How concerned are you about your employees being fit for work post October 17, 2018? A previous survey by The Conference Board of Canada found that more than half (52 per cent) of Canadian organizations are either concerned or very concerned about the implications of recreational cannabis legalization on the workplace.

Person smoking a joint

Employers’ top concerns include:

  • the increased use of cannabis, both inside and outside the workplace;
  • impairment and intoxication at work;
  • implications on workplace health and safety;
  • motivation, presenteeism, and productivity.

Many employers have already taken proactive steps to prepare for the legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada. These steps include:

  • updating alcohol and substance abuse policies;
  • establishing criteria for cannabis impairment;
  • updating smoke-free policies to include cannabis;
  • providing clarity on what roles are safety-sensitive;
  • training managers on how to deal with an impaired employee;
  • providing guidelines on how to accommodate medical cannabis use.

Whether your level of concern around cannabis legalization is high or low, education and communication are critical. Employers should not assume that all employees fully understand the effects of cannabis use on the mind and body. Compared to alcohol, the effects of cannabis may be subtler, but can stay in the system much longer. Educating all employees on how cannabis impacts the mind and body, and subsequently leads to impairment, is the most cost-effective and beneficial way for organizations to engage employees and ensure everyone is prepared for the new legislation. Communicating expectations around substance use and fitness for duty and implementing policies to provide clarity are equally important.

This ties into one of employers’ biggest concerns related to cannabis legalization—determining employee impairment and intoxication. Ultimately, an employee’s fitness for duty will mirror their health, engagement, and overall productivity in the workplace. When an employee is fit for work, the employee’s mind and body are in a healthy state, allowing them to work to their full potential. Additionally, the employee can perform all duties in a manner that doesn’t put themselves or others at risk.

For employers providing employee benefits coverage for medical cannabis, examining the structure of benefit plans will be key. Cannabis may shape up to be one of the most expensive drugs covered. This will also be top of mind for insurers and pharmacies.

The next 12 to 24 months will provide valuable insights and stories on how organizations from coast to coast are impacted by the legalization of recreational cannabis. Canadian employers will be learning together, all the while adapting to the new legislation based on collective experience and research findings. It will be important to keep abreast of changes as they occur and remain agile to ensure the comfort, safety, and productivity of Canadian employees.

The Conference Board of Canada will continue to work with organizations across Canada to understand their challenges and inform decision-making around substance use policies and practices. In response to employers’ top concerns, we are undertaking research to address the impact of legalization on:

  • the prevalence of medical and recreational cannabis use;
  • testing practices;
  • mental health;
  • health and safety;
  • employee engagement.

This research will help employers craft the most appropriate responses to the nuances that will come with the new legislation.

Related Research

Cannabis in the Workplace
Website listing all available research, infographics, and webinars.

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