With cannabis legalization, experts say employers should review their impairment policies. File photo

Preparing Penticton workplaces for legalized pot

No easy answers to how legalized pot will affect the workplace

It might seem simple, but there are layers of complexity to the legalization of cannabis, especially when it comes to the workplace.

“With the law and the regulatory process being up in the air a little bit, it is kind of hard to zero it down,” said Cary Schneiderat, a lawyer and chair of the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce.

The standard of not being impaired on alcohol or even prescription drugs in the workplace is just a starting point, Schneiderat said. One of the main issues for an employer is determining what is impairment with cannabis.

“With alcohol, it is easier to determine impairment. You can do a blood test, breathalyser, that sort of thing. With cannabis, it’s not as easy,” said Schneiderat. “Signs of intoxication aren’t quite as visible.”

Related: 2/3 of Canadians don’t know their workplace rules for cannabis: poll

Schneiderat added that THC can remain in your system for up to 30 days according to the numbers he has seen.

“Just because it is in your system, does it mean you are impaired? What level in your system equals impairment?” asked Schneiderat. “This is all stuff the criminal law hasn’t really determined yet either. The courts are going to have to chime in.

“I am sure lawyers are going to have a lot of case law that they are going to be putting before the courts to determine what the criminal definition of impairment is,” he said. “On the employment and business side, it can be a situation where somebody smoked a joint 30 days ago, and it is in their system, but it doesn’t mean they are impaired.”

Schneiderat said that for employers, it is not as easy as saying ‘we think you smoked and you are impaired.’

“With employment law, you have to be careful, you have to be sure you are giving your employees every opportunity to deal with a situation and correct any malfeasance or any issues on the job site,” he said. “As employers, your responsibility is to all employees and the safety of all employees, your clients and customers.

“I wish there was an easy answer. At this point, there are certainly more questions than answers.”

Schneiderat said that as more information becomes available, the chamber hopes to offer a seminar with an expert to help give local businesses the information they need to implement in their own policies and procedures.

“Our hope and goal is to try and get as much information as we can into the hands of our members,” he said. “It is going to be a little bit of a shift, but when you have a seismic change in policy and law that legalization of cannabis brings, you’re going to expect a little bit of uncertainty.”

Related: B.C.’s marijuana stores should shut down, Mike Farnworth says

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business and WorkplaceBC are also offering resources to help small businesses cope with the changing landscape.

“Employers have been dealing with impairment in the workplace for decades, whether it’s alcohol, prescription drugs or whatever. This is not new by any means,” said Richard Truscott, CFIB vice-president for B.C. and Alberta. “But it is an opportunity to promote awareness of the issue. It is an opportunity to reinforce with employers how important it is to have formal policies in place.”

According to the CFIB, some of the questions employers include: can cannabis be consumed on their premises?; what responsibility to they bear if an impaired employee or customer has an accident onsite?; can they ask employees to submit to a drug test if they have safety concerns?

It is up to business owners to step up and gain knowledge about what is going on, what is changing and what his rights and responsibilities are,” said Truscott, noting that small businesses don’t have experts like lawyers or Human Resources managers on staff, and the legalization of cannabis is just one of the changes they have to deal with, like new taxation and employment standards.

“There is a long list of policy changes going on and this is just adding to that list. Small businesses have not really had much time to prepare for this,” said Truscott.

The CFIB has created a suite of tools, including a free webinar, a workplace drug and alcohol policy template and an online course for employers and employees on workplace impairment. All of the resources, with the exclusion of the online course, are publicly available at cfib.ca/cannabis.

WorkSafeBC has a number of tools and guides available through their website, including Substance use and impairment in the workplace, a workplace impairment policy guide: Guide to Managing Workplace Impairment and Developing an Impairment Policy and more.

Related: After 10 years of fighting drunk drivers, Alexa’s Team asks: What about pot?

Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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