Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board

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Recreational cannabis legalization guidance

Cannabis is now legal for recreational use in Canada. This doesn’t change the workplace health and safety responsibilities that Yukon employers and workers have.

Employer responsibilities

Employers must provide a safe work environment and take reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of workers. This includes making sure that a worker who is impaired in any way is not assigned activities where their impairment may endanger them or anyone else.

Impairment is a complex issue that may indicate an addiction or a disability and needs to be approached with respect and compassion. If an employee has a diagnosed medical condition or disability, such as a substance addiction, the employer may have a duty to accommodate that individual.

Employers must provide training to supervisors and workers on the impact of impairment and on how to recognise and respond to possible signs of impairment.

Worker responsibilities

Workers need to show-up fit for work. They must advise their employer if their ability to safely perform their work is impaired for any reason. Workers have a duty to work safely and follow health and safety legislation and the employer’s policies. This includes a duty to understand their job and the impact that using substances could have on their safety and the safety of others.

These are duties not only to workers themselves, their employers and their co-workers, but also to their friends and family. These are the people most affected when someone becomes a safety risk due to impairment at work.

Impairment program and policies

Employers should have a comprehensive, written health and safety program in place. It should include:

  • A policy that addresses the risk of workplace impairment relevant to all sources of impairment, not just cannabis.
  • A job-safety analysis to determine tasks that are safety sensitive.

At a minimum, an employer should clearly communicate to all workers their expectations that workers should not use, possess or be under the influence of substances such as cannabis at work.

It is recommended that employers who wish to implement drug and alcohol testing, such as those whose workplaces include safety-sensitive activities, seek legal advice about how to balance workplace safety, human rights law, privacy issues, labour standards and collective agreements.

Supportive environment

It’s important to cultivate a supportive environment that encourages workers to feel comfortable disclosing when they do not feel fit for work and to look out for one another.

For more information

Below is a list of resources about cannabis and impairment in the workplace, including helpful information about developing an impairment policy, human rights issues and safety-sensitive work.

Q&A about recreational cannabis

What are employers’ legal duties relating to cannabis and the workplace?

An employer’s legal duty is toward workplace safety and there is no change in their responsibilities as a result of the legalization of recreational cannabis. The Yukon legislation and regulations for occupational health and safety remain the same: employers must provide a safe work environment and take precautions to protect the health and safety of workers.

This includes making sure that a worker who is impaired in any way, by cannabis or by other factors, is not assigned activities where their impairment may endanger them or anyone else. It also means not allowing the worker to continue to perform work where the impairment may create a hazard to the worker or anyone else.

Employers must provide training to supervisors and workers on the impact of impairment and on how to recognise and respond to possible signs of impairment.

Impairment is a complex issue that may indicate an addiction or a disability and needs to be approached with respect and compassion. If an employee has a diagnosed medical condition or disability, such as a substance addiction, the employer may have a duty to accommodate that individual.

Do workers have responsibilities too?

Yes, a worker has a duty to perform their job safely and to follow regulations, training, policies and procedures.

Workers need to show-up fit for work. They must not perform work when there is a risk of impairment that may affect the health and safety of workers themselves or anyone else. If a worker comes to work impaired, they need to take steps to protect themselves and other workers. They should first inform their supervisor who will follow the workplace policy and procedures on impairment, if there is a policy in place.

In these respects, workers have duties, not only to themselves, their employers and their co-workers, but also to their friends and family. These are the people most affected if they pose a safety risk at work due to impairment.

What can an employer do to prevent cannabis-related impairment in the workplace?

Employers and supervisors should be educated and trained regarding how to recognize impairment. However, it is not their role to diagnose a possible substance use or dependency problem.

At a minimum, an employer should clearly communicate to all employees their expectations that, as with alcohol, workers should not use, possess or be under the influence of cannabis at work.

On top of this, one of the most important steps an employer can take is to establish a workplace impairment policy.

This policy needs to be specific to the workplace and the kind of work carried out. It should describe how impairment is identified and reported in the workplace (for a worker themselves and for their co-workers). It should also outline how confidentiality will be maintained in the organization, the process for accommodation, the assistance available, such as, an employee assistance program (EAP), the training that is provided and what actions may be taken if safety is a concern (for example, the disciplinary procedures that are in place, the repercussions if the worker has to be sent home).

As well, a policy should include a job-safety analysis to determine tasks that are safety sensitive.

The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board strongly encourages every employer to establish an impairment policy and to make sure it is clearly communicated to all workers.

What is workplace impairment?

Anything that affects a worker’s ability to safely perform work is considered an impairment in the workplace; cannabis is not the only cause.

Other obvious things like alcohol or illegal drug use cause impairment. However, there are also less obvious forms of impairment such as fatigue, stress, emotional distress, psychological injury and prescription medications.

Why is it important to address this issue?

Many jobs, particularly safety-sensitive jobs, require alertness, and accurate and quick reflexes. An impairment to these qualities can not only interfere with the accuracy and efficiency of work, but can cause workplace incidents.

The federal government’s legalization of recreational cannabis has highlighted the issue of workplace impairment. This is leading to a renewed examination of impairment in the workplace.

At the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board we promote health and safety in the workplace. Our goal is to raise awareness of the issue of impairment and the effects it can have in the workplace.

What do you mean by safety-sensitive jobs or tasks?

While there is not one single definition used across jurisdictions or industries, the Canadian Human Rights Commission defines safety-sensitive positions as ones which “if not performed in a safe manner, can cause direct and significant damage to property, and/or injury to the employee, others around them, the public and/or the immediate environment”.

Some tasks immediately come to mind as being safety sensitive: driving, operating equipment, working with sharp objects or hot surfaces, dealing with hazardous chemicals, etc. but it could include other types of work tasks too, such as, walking children from a daycare to the park.

An accepted way of determining whether a task is safety sensitive is by undertaking a job safety analysis (JSA) (also known as a job hazard analysis). In a JSA, each step of a job is analyzed to identify potential hazards and recommend the safest way to do the job. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has a fact sheet on job safety analysis on their website.

What should an employer, supervisor or co-worker do if they suspect a worker is impaired on the job?

It’s very important that an employer, supervisor or co-worker take action if they become aware of someone showing signs of impairment at work (regardless of the cause).

The employer should remember to always approach someone who is perceived to be impaired with discretion and compassion. There are a variety of reasons someone may appear to be impaired while at work.

If a worker is concerned that a co-worker is impaired at work, they should not address the matter with them directly. Instead, they should immediately contact their supervisor and make them aware of their concern. The supervisor should then follow any procedures that are defined in the workplace impairment policy.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has produced a helpful fact sheet called Impairment at Work which is on their website.

They suggest these actions:

  • Speak to the worker in a private area to discuss their behaviour. Ask another supervisor or designated person (e.g., a union representative) to be present as a witness.
  • If the worker is in crisis, dial 911.
  • State your concerns to the worker and request that they explain what is going on. Do not assume you know the cause of impairment.
  • Based on the worker’s response, discuss options, including accommodation if applicable. Accommodation plans should take into account the recommendations of the worker’s physician or other medical professional. Follow the procedures in your policy.
  • Provide information on your employee assistance program (EAP), if your workplace has one.
  • If necessary, ensure the worker has a safe way to get home.
  • If disciplinary action is required, follow your policy.
  • If applicable, notify senior management, human resources and/or your union representative.
  • Put together an incident report following every discussion.
  • Be aware that you don’t need to diagnose the problem, and that more than one discussion with the worker may be required.

Can Yukon employers perform drug and alcohol testing on their workers?

It is the shared responsibility of workers and employers to ensure workplaces are safe. Part of that is making sure that no-one is impaired at work.

It is up to an employer whether or not to test workers for substance use.

Employers who wish to implement drug and alcohol testing, such as those whose workplaces include safety-sensitive positions, should seek legal advice about how to balance workplace safety, human rights law, privacy issues, labour standards and collective agreements.