Workplace strategies for managing cannabis use disorders

Focus Area — Human Resources

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This Op-Ed was originally posted by The Globe and Mail on August 1 2019 and is written by Dr. Bill Howatt, head of research, workforce and productivity, the Conference Board of Canada.


The Conference Board of Canada and The Globe and Mail are partnering to explore the relationship between career success and cannabis use. Employers and employees (both recreational and medical cannabis users, as well as non-cannabis users) are invited to participate in this study. (Employees interested in taking the survey can click on this link. Employers interested in taking the survey can click on this link.) The data from these surveys will be aggregated and used to conduct analysis and create a report that will be presented Oct. 15, 2019, at a conference at The Globe and Mail Centre in Toronto.

Recreational cannabis use has increased since it was legalized last fall. As the Cannabis Act matures and legal cannabis becomes more accessible, there could also be an increase in problematic use – and cannabis use disorders. Although some people see cannabis as less dangerous than other drugs, it’s important to remember that it can become addictive.

AWARENESS

Cannabis can affect your mood, your mental state and how you perceive things. Its relaxation benefits are one of the reasons why people can unwittingly become dependent, and it’s also one of the primary motivators for trying the drug. After the drug wears off, however, a rebound effect can lead to higher levels of anxiety. Some people may self-medicate with more cannabis to treat this anxiety, opening the door to dependency, thereby increasing the risk of anxiety.

With more people experimenting with cannabis, the likelihood of cannabis use disorders may rise. Some of those employees may need help to manage those disorders. In addition to substance-use policies that can set expectations around impairment in the workplace, it’s helpful for employers to educate employees on early signs of misuse.

ACCOUNTABILITY

A person struggling with cannabis impairment at work may be prone to erratic behaviour – potentially putting themselves or colleagues at risk.

If immediate safety is not at risk but the manager is concerned about changes in performance and behaviour, they are required to talk to the employee in a conversation referred to as the “duty to inquire.” The purpose of this conversation is to learn why the employee believes their behaviour has changed, what a solution may be and what kind of help they may require. It’s never a manager’s role to diagnose the cause of an impairment. Their job is to evaluate the employee’s behaviours, make sure the workplace is safe and, when required, work with human resources to help the employee.

When an employee’s behaviour raises reasonable suspicion that something is wrong, the manager will work with human resources to determine the right course of action. In a safety-sensitive workplace, this can include regular testing or result in discipline or workplace accommodations.

ACTION

Part of an employer’s responsibility is to provide suitable accommodations for people who struggle with cannabis dependence. At a basic level, those trying to manage their problematic use might be directed to an employee assistance program (EAP) or peer group supports in the community. In the case of more severe substance use disorder, employees might receive access to inpatient or outpatient treatment, or financial support to seek treatment. They might be directed to their options while continuing to work or while on leave. The latter would typically be followed by a return-to-work plan, and possibly drug testing if the employee is in a safety-sensitive role.

Most important, employers should first make it clear that employees are expected to adhere to all substance use policies. Managers should also be trained on how to detect and intervene if they believe an employee is impaired. Employers should stay informed on changes to the landscape, consult legal experts about managing a complicated accommodation when necessary and support employees experiencing a mental-health issue in the workplace following best practice guidelines.

Resources such as the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, Canadian Standards Association and the Canadian Human Rights Commission can help you balance the rights of employees with the need to maintain a safe workplace. Bill Howatt is the head of research, workforce and productivity at the Conference Board of Canada. Julie Irving is a staff psychologist at the Work, Stress, and Health clinic at the Centre for Addition and Mental Health

Dr. Bill Howatt

Chief of Research, Workforce Productivity

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