Don't toke at work? Uncertainty over on-the-job marijuana use

With one week to go until recreational marijuana use is legalized in Canada, employers and employees remain confused about whether people will be allowed to consume cannabis at work.

A new poll released Wednesday by Ipsos found that six per cent of surveyed Canadians believe they will be allowed to consume marijuana before coming into work or during work hours once cannabis is legalized on Oct. 17.

The poll found a significant gap between the number of managers who believed consuming cannabis at or before work would be OK (10 per cent) and the number of non-management employees who thought so (two per cent). This could be because managers are more likely to be aware of the details of new workplace policies around the drug.

Curiously, although only 10 per cent of managers think their employer will let them use marijuana during or before work, 19 per cent of managers say they are at least somewhat likely to consume cannabis before starting work. Fourteen per cent said they were somewhat likely to use marijuana while at work. (For non-management employees, those numbers were down to seven per cent and four per cent.)

The poll was commissioned by human resources firm ADP Canada. It involved an online survey of 500 managers and 500 non-managers from across the country.

“Managers need to have detailed, informed and thorough conversations with employees about what constitutes acceptable behaviour in the workplace when it comes to cannabis,” Hendrik Steenkamp, ADP Canada’s director of human resources advisory services, said in a press release.

Provinces have the ability to set their own rules on where marijuana can be consumed, meaning what is allowed in Nova Scotia might be illegal in Alberta.

Employers have been seeking clarity on rules around marijuana and the workplace during the march toward legalization.

Some employers have urged the federal government to revamp the Canada Labour Code to explicitly address the issue. A federal working group set up with business and labour leaders was split on the issue, with labour groups arguing that current rules on impairment in the workplace are sufficient.

Strict rules govern the drug testing of employees by their employers. The Ontario Human Rights Commission says employee drug testing can only be done in “very narrow circumstances” relating to “dangerous work environments in which people are doing safety-sensitive work.”

If a workplace’s policy is based on THC levels rather than direct consumption of cannabis, abstaining from marijuana use may not be enough for some workers.A 2017 study found that second-hand marijuana smoke can leave detectable levels of THC in the blood and urine of non-smokers for up to 48 hours.

Here are details on how some Canadian employers plan to handle legalization:

  • Air Canada says “safety-critical employees” including pilots and flight attendants will not be able to consume cannabis at any time. WestJet has followed suit with a similar policy.
  • RCMP and Toronto police officers will be prohibited from using marijuana at all times within 28 days of reporting for active duty.
  • Montreal police will be allowed to smoke cannabis during their time off as long as they show up to work "fit for duty"
  • Other police services, including the ones in Ottawa and Vancouver, have no restrictions on officers’ off-duty cannabis use, provided it does not hinder their ability to do their jobs.
  • The Department of National Defence includes a 28-day prohibition for anyone who will be diving, operating a submarine, flying an aircraft or performing similar tasks. Military members performing other safety-sensitive duties will be banned from consuming cannabis for the 24 hours beforehand, while no members will be allowed to use marijuana in the eight hours prior to a shift or while at work.
  • The Correctional Service of Canada, which made its policy public Wednesday, says front-line correctional workers will not be allowed to use marijuana in the 24 hours before they report to work

With files from The Canadian Press