Canadian businesses are taking an active approach to managing the implications of cannabis in the workplace since legalization in the fall of 2018, but more remains to be done, says a new report by the Conference Board of Canada.

It notes that two-thirds of businesses surveyed felt they were prepared for legalization of cannabis and many had updated their policies related to cannabis use ahead of legalization, says Monica Haberl, a senior researcher for the Acting on Cannabis report.

Lack definition of impairment

But while considerable work has been done by employers, “not all of the kinks have been ironed out,” she says. “The majority of responding organizations don’t have a definition for impairment within their workplace, which means that even though employees know they have to come to work unimpaired, they might not fully understand what that requires.”

The survey indicates that one in five organizations says they are concerned about problematic substance use in the workplace but 60 per cent of organizations say they are not concerned. Another 60 per cent do not have a definition of impairment.

The Conference Board notes that lack of clarity for employees points to areas for continuous improvement such as education programs.

Some of the steps the board suggests include:

Reiterate that impairment due to alcohol, cannabis, or drugs is unacceptable in the workplace and outline steps that will be taken to ensure policy compliance

Specify consequences

Specify the consequences for violating “smoke-free” policies, unsafe equipment use, or any other action that jeopardizes the health and safety of other employees or the public

In the case of zero tolerance for cannabis and safety-sensitive workplaces, consider what would be a reasonable period of abstinence before an employee returns to work

Distinguish medical cannabis from recreational cannabis, since they can be treated differently.

Safety-sensitive workplaces

“Cannabis education offers a practical approach and can be tailored to suit the needs of safety-sensitive workplaces as well as those without serious safety concerns,” says Haberl.

While the report says it’s too early to tell what the long-term effects of legalization will be, “what is clear is that Canadian employers and policymakers are breaking new ground and setting the example for the rest of the world.”