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As the founder and principal of Williams HR Law Professional Corporation and Williams HR Consulting Inc., Laura boasts more than two decades of experience providing strategic advice and legal representation to employers on a full range of labor and employment law matters. Her core areas of practice include pre-termination advice and strategy, labor relations, workplace safety and insurance, wrongful dismissal litigation, workplace investigations, human rights, disability management, workplace violence and harassment compliance, privacy compliance, employment standards, workplace policies, employment contracts, restrictive covenants and workplace culture recovery. 

When cannabis became legal in Canada a little more than a year ago, employers became understandably paranoid about the potential new employment law risks bearing down on their workplaces. It turns out their concerns were largely unfounded.

While Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, enabled Canadians to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis and consume it in authorized locations, provincial legislation quickly prohibited its use in most public spaces. Much to employers’ delight, workers were no more inclined to come to work high after legalization than before.

Still, most organizations wisely implemented workplace health and safety policies that restricted the workplace use of cannabis and cannabis products. This was particularly important in safety-sensitive environments such as construction sites or production facilities, where the use of heavy or potentially dangerous machinery requires an employee’s full, unimpaired attention. Having workplace policies in place also helps limit employers’ liability should a worker get high on the job.

That’s especially important because, on October 17, 2019, four potentially problematic categories of cannabis products became legal. They included edibles, topical creams, and makeup, and cannabis extracts. Although these classes of products became are now legal, they won’t become available for purchase until at least December 16, 2019, under Health Canada’s product approval framework.

Now, as with the availability of dried cannabis, the likelihood of your employees suddenly morphing into slovenly potheads is extremely low. But edibles pose entirely new challenges for employers, particularly as it pertains to managing workplace impairment.

Still, most organizations wisely implemented workplace health and safety policies that restricted workplace use of cannabis and cannabis products.

The most obvious is that products such as edibles have no odor and offer no immediate, telltale signs of usage. Importantly, edibles can be far more potent than cannabis consumed in other forms. Their effects can also be delayed. So, an employee who partakes and seems fine in the short term can present entirely impaired an hour later when they’re in a client meeting. Worse, they may not understand how high they are, creating a variety of brand-damaging risks or health and safety issues for your organization.

Some employers may be concerned that there’s the potential for inadvertent use or pranking, leading to the possibility that an employee could mistakenly ingest cannabis-laced edibles and become extremely ill or so impaired they put themselves or their colleagues at risk in the workplace. However, the possibility of this is remote, as there are a variety of restrictions on cannabis edibles that will be approved for sale—namely, easily mistaken items such as cannabis gummies or chocolate.

Ultimately, the legalization of these new products likely will not result in a significant increase in impaired employees at work or significantly affect the workplace, if employers are prepared. This includes training managers to look out for signs of intoxication and ensuring that workplace policies clearly set expectations regarding recreational cannabis use, no matter what form it’s in if they haven’t done so already. If policies are already in place, employers would be well-advised to reiterate conduct expectations.

The bottom line is that understanding and preparing for this change should be high atop employers’ HR to-do lists in the coming months. Employers who take the time to do so have little to worry about when it comes to the legalization of these new classes of cannabis products.




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