Consider workplace safety in legalized marijuana rules, groups urge

WorkSafeBC prohibits workers with any impairments from work that could harm themselves or others

New rules for legalized marijuana need to consider the impact on workplaces and clarify the rights of both employers and employees, say some business groups.

Ottawa has set July 1 as the deadline for regulations to be in place and many provinces and territories are still working to craft legislation, including British Columbia, where a public consultation on legal pot wrapped up this week.

Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, said large and small companies need guidance from the provincial and federal governments on how they should balance employee privacy with safety in the workplace.

“For any employer, what are their rights and responsibilities in the face of an employee who is under the influence of cannabis?” she said.

“How is an employer supposed to be able to deal with that type of situation without compromising their business and their workplace?”

Huberman said the board of trade wants to see the provincial Employment Standards Act amended to specifically address marijuana usage.

The law does not include any provisions on marijuana, although WorkSafeBC regulations prohibit workers with any physical or mental impairments from doing work that could pose harm to themselves or anyone else.

The rules also say employers cannot allow anyone at a workplace to stay if their ability to work is impaired by alcohol, a drug or any other substance that could put anyone in danger.

Those rules apply to workplaces in B.C., but regulations for legalized marijuana should be standardized across the country, Huberman said.

“In every province, in every territory, we want to make sure this is done right,” she said, adding that creating the right rules may take more time than the federal government’s timeline allows.

As business groups express their concerns about looming legalization, unions have been quiet on the issue.

Paul Finch, treasurer for the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union, said the group has submitted recommendations to the province on how and where recreational marijuana should be sold, but the union does not take a position on legalized marijuana in the workplace.

Several other unions declined comment or did not respond to requests for comment.

The BC Trucking Association, meanwhile, is asking for a “legalized framework” for random drug and alcohol testing.

“We recognize that there is an increased safety risk due to the possibility of impairment and in order for the public safety risk to be reduced, we think it’s imperative that employers be allowed to randomly drug test workers that are in safety-sensitive positions,” said Louise Yako, the association’s president and CEO.

The issue of workplace drug and alcohol testing has already gone before Canadian courts, including Alberta’s Court of Appeal, which ruled in September that the energy company Suncor could continue testing workers at its sites in the oilsands.

While testing is allowed under some specific circumstances, the rules around random testing are not as clear as they should be, Yako said.

“Given the change in the regulation affecting marijuana, we think that employers should have every tool available to them,” she said.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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