Legalization of cannabis brings changes to workplace

The legalization of cannabis in Canada this month will necessarily have an impact on the workplace. Although it is new territory with many unknowns, there are important things UFCW 1518 members should know. Marijuana legalization does not mean members can consume marijuana  while working. Employers have policies relating to impairment while working, as they do now for alcohol and other legal substances, and these remain in effect.

Even without policies in place, arbitrators will likely find that employees who become impaired while at work can be disciplined and, depending on the circumstances, terminated. Workplace safety is an ongoing concern, and marijuana-related impairment is a potential safety issue, as it is with alcohol. This is relevant whether the use is recreational or medicinal. It is especially relevant if employees use equipment or motor vehicles.

Drug testing

The employer is prohibited from performing random drug tests. Drug and alcohol testing is generally restricted to safety-sensitive job sites or situations where the employer has a valid reason to be concerned about an employee’s performance.

There remain issues with the accuracy of testing marijuana levels. To date it has been difficult to establish impairment levels as the effects of marijuana on different people will vary. To address this, some employers may decide to test capacity or function rather than testing levels of the drug in the system.

UFCW 1518 will monitor the situation as legalization unfolds, including things such as changes or advancements in tests available, or whether employers will be given more leeway to test more frequently.

Human Rights

Employers will have a duty to accommodate individuals using medically authorized marijuana and those addicted to marijuana, as for any other drug. Additionally, employers may not discriminate against employees who use marijuana as medical treatment, such as CBD oil to treat chronic pain. CBD or cannabidiol is a hemp-derived oil that is low in THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Employees will need to show that there is a medical requirement for marijuana use if they want an accommodation. If a medical condition results in you needing to use marijuana, or another drug that may lead to impairment, you may want to talk to your shop steward about your need for accommodation before talking to your employer.

Workplace policies

We are continuing to review new and existing employer policies to ensure that they do not infringe on your rights, including your privacy rights and human rights. If your employer has introduced a new policy about drugs in the workplace, or updated an existing policy, and you have questions about the policy you may want to talk to your shop steward so that we answer your questions.