Cannabis changes worry Burnaby employers

Burnaby businesses have to be careful not to let the stigma of marijuana use affect how they treat employees once it’s legalized, according to Ashley Mitchell, a labour and employment lawyer with Miller Thomson.

Mitchell was speaking at the Burnaby Board of Trade annual general meeting Monday on the subject of cannabis legalization, alongside Anne Dobson-Mack of WorkSafe B.C.

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“We do recommend that everyone treat it like you treat alcohol,” Mitchell told the crowd.

The three areas of concern are employees using marijuana recreationally, medical marijuana use, and employees who claim to have developed an addiction, according to Mitchell.

Businesses should develop clear impairment policies for the workplace that include marijuana. She said.

“Basic principles regarding impairment in the workplace will continue,” she said.

Mitchell advised business owners and managers to observe employees and watch for signs of impairment, rather than opting for drug testing. Drug testing for marijuana is different than blood alcohol testing, as impairment with alcohol drops at a steady pace. Marijuana metabolizes differently, and can stay in the blood stream for days or even weeks.

Signs employers should watch for include euphoria, a lack of motivation, lowered inhibitions, talkativeness, dry mouth and throat, increased appetite and impaired coordination, she said. There are courses available to help companies identify the signs.

If an employee reports an addiction to marijuana, it should be handed the same way the company handles any addiction, she added.

And if an employee reports medical marijuana use, the situation needs to be handled very carefully, according to Mitchell.

“The first question to consider is, is the employee in a safety sensitive position?” she said.

Medical marijuana has been legal since 2001, so this is not a new issue, she added.

Dobson-Mack also pointed out marijuana use is not a new issue, and it has always been accessible in the Lower Mainland.

“Impairment of all sorts has been regulated for some time,” she said.

She also shared statistics stating there has been a 61-per-cent increase in daily/weekly use by 25-44 year olds from 2007 to 2017, according to WorkSafe B.C.

Any policies regarding marijuana use should be imposed carefully, and with the help of an employment lawyer, Dobson-Mack said.

“Instead of relying on drug testing, take a fitness to work approach,” she added. “Is this worker fit to perform tasks involved with this worker’s job?”

WorkSafe B.C. has prepared a primer for employers on workplace impairment.

The primer points out that workers are obligated to inform employers if their work is impaired for any reason, under sections 4.19 and 4.20 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation. And employers must not assign impaired workers to work that creates undue risk to themselves or others.

There is also additional information in the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety whitepaper, Workplace Strategies: Risk of Impairment from Cannabis (http://www.ccohs.ca/products/publications/cannabis).

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