OTTAWA, Ont. — Forty-eight percent of safety-sensitive industries have yet to introduce a zero-tolerance policy on cannabis because of a lack of clarity on issues such as privacy and impairment, a survey has revealed.
The poll by the Conference Board of Canada also found that only a third of all companies surveyed would directly provide employees with education on cannabis use.
The findings are part of the report Acting on the Cannabis Act: Workplace Policy Approaches to Cannabis, released in August.
How to manage the implications of cannabis in the workplace has been a major topic of debate since long before pot became legal last fall.
Monica Haberl, senior research associate, Conference Board of Canada
“It’s not easy to adopt a zero-tolerance policy,” said Monica Haberl, senior research associate on the Conference Board’s Cannabis at Work file.
“One of the challenges even for safety-sensitive workplaces is the fact that in many industries there are no legislation or regulations in place. So, it can just be tricky for organizations to put in place that zero-tolerance policy,” she said.
Haberl said while the unions are not explicitly opposed to such a policy, they have “understandable concerns” about the privacy rights of the employees, and want to make sure employers are not going beyond what is required to ensure workplace safety.
She said it is much easier for companies in the U.S. to adopt a zero-tolerance policy because cannabis is still illegal federally.
“In addition, random testing and testing for drugs and alcohol is much more, well, socialized in the U.S. In fact, in some industries it is actually mandated whereas in Canada, random testing, for example, can be very challenging to implement for employers,” said Haberl.
Another problem is the lack of a proper definition for impairment. Sixty per cent of respondents did not have a definition.
“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,” Haberl said.
She said one way of bridging the gap is education.
“It’s one of the simplest gaps to close. 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,” she said.
Haberl said it is important to understand that almost all employees do not actually want to come to work and put either their peers or themselves at risk in the workplace.
“It may just be that they are not aware that smoking a joint on Sunday night might still be affecting you on Monday morning.”
Dr. Melissa Snider-Adler, chief medical review officer, DriverCheck
Reacting to the report, one of the country’s top addiction experts said she is “not surprised at all” that 48% of safety-sensitive industries have not adopted a zero-tolerance policy.
Dr. Melissa Snider-Adler, chief medical review officer at DriverCheck, cited the guideline set by the Occupational and Environmental Medical Association of Canada in that respect.
“Their recommendation is a minimum of 24 hours of no cannabis use prior to engaging in any safety-sensitive work,” she said.
She added that employers, who may feel that zero tolerance or a 28-day cannabis ban are too prohibitive, may balance it differently. They may want to adopt a policy of no substance use and no cannabis use for 24 hours.
She also noted that in the first quarter of this year, 646,000 Canadians reported trying cannabis for the very first time, nearly double the estimate of 327,000 people in the first quarter of 2018, when non-medical cannabis was illegal.
In Ontario, adult use of cannabis reached 20% in the first quarter, up from 14% in the same period last year, according to the National Cannabis Survey conducted by Statistics Canada.
“When we see an increase in use, it is always concerning. That is not just people who don’t work,” Snider-Adler said.