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Weed — and impairment — at work an upcoming minefield for Canadian employers

Employers are grappling with how to accommodate workers who will soon be free to use cannabis in their spare time.

Workplaces better get ready for legal weed, experts say.

The Canadian Press

Workplaces better get ready for legal weed, experts say.

As Canada edges toward full legalization next year, businesses are trying to determine how to deal with employees' use of recreational cannabis.

Bill Duncan of CannAmm Occupational Testing Services, which offers employment drug testing and other occupational health mentoring, is hosting a seminar in Mississauga, Ont. on Nov. 7 to help bosses adapt to the shifting landscape.

“Most companies have a policy on alcohol, even though it is legal. They’re now realizing that they’re going to have to look at something similar for marijuana,” Duncan said.

Much will have to change; Duncan gave the simple example of a workplace “Alcohol and Illegal Substances” policy that will no longer cover cannabis in the same way, in terms of consumption and possession.

“Another (issue) is impairment at work,” he said. “How that is determined, and what the ramifications are for the employee. Would a drug test be involved, and what would determine when that will be used?”

Taking its lead from the federal government, the province will provide its own set of workplace resource guides to employers. However, these have not yet been set in stone, Duncan said, and details are thin.

By next year, employers will no longer be able to put the brakes on their employees’ use of the drug outside of work hours. As for during work hours, controversy has raged over adequate testing as well as what is and isn't a safe level of intoxication. Not to mention, bosses are already grappling with how to fairly accommodate medical marijuana use on the job.

Alison McMahon, CEO of staffing agency Cannabis at Work, said the cut-off levels of cannabis in a work setting are typically five nanograms per millilitre of oral fluid and 50 per millilitre of urine.

McMahon warned employers against testing for "impairment."

“It’s really important, the language chosen,” she said, adding that even then she expects workers to challenge their employers’ take on their cannabis use.

“Do not write policy around impairment,” she suggested. “Write it around a cut-off point. That’s defendable. Trying to say that somebody is impaired is going to be a nightmare.”

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