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Employment & Labour

Legal cannabis in the workplace manageable with proactive approach

With the historic legalization of cannabis for recreational use, organizations across Canada are still grappling with the potential workplace fallout, Markham, Ont.-based employment lawyer Laura Williams writes in The Lawyer’s Daily.

Under Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, Canadians are able to purchase and possess up to 30 grams of cannabis, consume the drug in authorized locations, and grow up to four cannabis plants per household.

“What the new law does not allow is for employees to get high in the middle of the office or during a client meeting,” writes Williams, founder and principal of Williams HR Law and Williams HR Consulting. “Also, smoking inside buildings is still prohibited in every province, including smoking cannabis.”

She writes that while pot may be legal, it can’t be used indiscriminately and she doesn’t anticipate that legalization will have a significant impact on the vast majority of businesses — law firms included.

For law firms, “Nightmare scenarios of monthly billings plummeting in a haze of marijuana-induced unproductivity are more than far-fetched. While legalization is a new reality, it is fully manageable with a proactive approach to policy design and implementation and consistent enforcement,” Williams writes in the legal publication.

The fact is that organizations have been required to accommodate medical marijuana in the workplace for some time. The only distinction now is that individuals without specific medical requirements can use the drug within legal limits,” she adds.

The focus for law firms — and their clients — should be on mitigating impairment-related risk and balancing accommodation requests within the framework of their organization’s operational requirements, Williams writes.

“Doing so presents an opportunity for employers to review and refresh their employee policy manuals to ensure legislative compliance and reiterate conduct expectations,” she adds.

In Ontario, the province’s Human Rights Commission recently released new policy guidance in human rights and cannabis, which reminds employers of their duty to accommodate employees with disabilities, including those suffering from drug addictions. Williams says this requirement applies to individuals who use marijuana to treat medical conditions but only extends to the point of undue hardship.

“Further, it’s important to note that employers must act in good faith when assessing accommodation requests, but are not always required to grant them,” she writes. “If accommodation would compromise the safety of the workplace, for example, it may not be possible. That’s an unlikely scenario at a law firm, but the impairment of a lawyer or associate could significantly impact their ability to deliver services and meet the requirements of their position.”

Law firms’ human resources and/or people managers should act now to conduct a workplace risk assessment identifying practices that create potential threats that impairment could pose to the safety or success of the organization, she says. These assessments can be used as a basis for drafting updated drug and alcohol policies.

“In the coming weeks or months, your clients may ask for advice on how to manage workplace cannabis use. They should be advised that all incidents inquiries should be handled in good faith, responded to in a timely manner and managers should be trained to assess and respond taking into account the differences between medical/addicted uses which require accommodation considerations, and recreational use, which does not require accommodation and could result in discipline for breaching policy — and how they might impact the workplace,” Williams says.

“Without this necessary policy infrastructure in place, law firms and their clients expose themselves to the risk of costly litigation, human rights challenges and damage to their brand reputation — all of which are completely avoidable,” Williams writes.

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