What will marijuana laws mean for the office?
Concerns of intoxication among workers are exaggerated, writes Howard Levitt.
With the imminent legalization of marijuana, some reaction as to the alleged repercussions to Canada’s employers border on the hysterical. Some fear that employees will be hovering 10 metres of office entrances getting in a joint on their way to or during work. Others worry that the federal government has just provided Canadian employees with a licence to attend work under the influence.
The concerns are exaggerated. Other than for medicinal uses, the legalization of marijuana merely puts it on the same footing as the treatment of alcohol in the workplace.
Employers continue to have the right to manage their workforce and insist that their employees are productive. They can continue to prohibit employees from smoking marijuana during working hours and being at work intoxicated. The degree of discipline will be informed by the nature of the job.
Employees in safety sensitive positions such as pilots, drivers or heavy machine operators, can legitimately be warned that performing their jobs with marijuana in their system will result in dismissal for cause. Whereas even a first offence is generally cause for discharge for employees whose intoxication endangers the public, progressive warnings are required for employees for whom drug use will only render them less effective. That is no different from the legal approach to other factors inhibiting productivity.
What about employees who are prescribed marijuana as medication? That provides no licence to override workplace safety concerns. The duty to accommodate those employees does not require permitting them to attend work impaired. Should the marijuana use impinge upon public or employee safety, the employer may reassign them to positions where they pose no risk, at concomitant remuneration.
If an employee can demonstrate a legitimate need for medicinal marijuana, an employer can insist that they not damage the company’s public image by conspicuously toking up at the entrances to its offices.
What about those employees who have a genuine addiction to marijuana? Must the employer permit them to come to work impaired? Again, the answer is no. But they must accommodate the employee by permitting them — through disability coverage or unpaid leave, depending on the nature of the group benefit coverage — to attend rehabilitation. Failure to take steps toward recovery or by dropping out of drug rehab may, only then, be cause for dismissal.
The new legislation will have no impact on the right of employers to insist upon sobriety in their workplace.