Ask a Lawyer: How to deal with impairment in the workplace

Ask a Lawyer: How to deal with impairment in the workplace

This is what...Dealing with impairment at work is a complex issue. Ahead of the legalization of cannabis this year, employers should already have a solid set of policies in place which detail how they will deal with each category of impairment at work.

But how confident are you in spotting cannabis impairment in your employees?

Dealing with impairment in relation to cannabis and alcohol will be different from dealing with it in regards to medical marijuana or prescribed medication.

We spoke Elizabeth Traynor, partner at Siskinds' Labour and Employment Group, who explained the importance of having an all-encompassing policy in place.

“A policy should look at the full spectrum of recreational and medially prescribed drugs and set out how each situation will be addressed,” she told HRD Canada.

“Our recommendation in dealing with cannabis is to think of it as alcohol. Most employers are not carrying out alcohol testing every day. However, if an employee comes to work and appears to be under the influence of alcohol then employers have some experience with that – just send them home.”

It’s the same sort of thing with cannabis. Traynor explained how managers may need training to help them identify impairment with cannabis, simply because it looks very different to alcohol or medication.

“Everyone’s watched movies – some of us may have had personal experience with the drug – but we cannot rely on those anecdotal experiences,” continued Traynor.

“Employers need to set out some principles for managers and supervisors to look at. There are some really good resources available for employers to look at. The Canadian Centre of Occupational Health and Safety has a really good document called Workplace Strategies: Risk of Impairment from Cannabis.”

The document includes a helpful chart which highlights indicators of impairment, from alcohol to prescribed drugs to cannabis. There’s a list of physical attributes to look out for; has the employee’s personal hygiene deteriorated? Are they looking ill? Are they using breath mints and mouthwash all the time?

There are also several psychosocial impacts caused by impairment; is the employee suddenly having issues with family members? Are they having issues with co-workers? Are they responding inappropriately to interactions with others? Are they un-focused and making mistakes?

“These are all things that should raise a red flag with any good employer, making them step back look at the situation in front of them,” added Traynor. “A step which many employers overlook is a simple one – just sit down with the employee in question and be transparent. Explain how you’ve identified some issues they’ve been exhibiting and express your concern. Ask if there’s any way you can help and give them some support.”
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