Workplace Impairment: A Matter Worth Considering

In October 2018 Canada became one of the first countries in the world to legalize the recreational use of cannabis. At the time the legislation was adopted, many employers thought that this had all happened a bit too quickly. The media storm surrounding the unreliability of available screening methods also heightened fears about workplace-related dangers stemming from cannabis use. Now that the dust has settled, what lessons can be drawn from what has transpired over the last twelve months? 

First of all, while legalization was an important legislative and social change, it is clear that there has not been widespread carnage on the streets or catastrophes in the workplace. The vast majority of workers have continued to behave responsibly and report to work without being impaired by drugs, alcohol or some other substance. They appear to have understood a fairly simple concept: the fact that recreational cannabis is now legal doesn’t give employees the right to show up at work with their faculties impaired by this substance. 

Legalization has however had the effect of making large numbers of employers aware of the need to have well thought-out policies on impairment in the workplace. In addition and concomitantly with the legislation, the courts have laid down some guidelines in relation to such policies, particularly in respect of work environments that pose a high risk for workers’ health and safety. This has inspired several employers to refine their approach in this area, for example by requiring workers with dependency problems to disclose their situation to the employer without delay, before any unfortunate incident occurs, in exchange for their employer’s undertaking to accommodate them in the rehabilitation process. 

However, some questions remain unanswered for the moment. Consider for example the difficulty of establishing a link between traces of cannabis detected in an employee and their potential effects on his or her ability to perform their tasks safely and efficiently. With the imminent arrival of legal cannabis edible products on the market in the autumn of 2019, many are hoping that the science of screening for marijuana consumption develops as rapidly as the recreational cannabis industry has! 

Canadian and Quebec enterprises thus have every interest in closely monitoring upcoming developments in this area, on both the legislative and scientific fronts. In the meantime, it would obviously be prudent for them to adopt a sound policy on impairment at work and to reserve the right to amend the policy as and when new developments occur.