Zero tolerance possible for Canadian factory workers

Dec 13, 2018

Canadian factory workers at risk for termination or employment refusal for recreational marijuana use

The recreational use of cannabis became legal on October 17, 2018, under the federal Cannabis Act. As such, Canadians aged 18 years or older can legally possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis in its dried or “equivalent non-dried form” in public.

Despite marijuana’s new legal status in Canada, legalization of marijuana may create a new dilemma for employers at high-risk jobs, including jobs in the Canadian manufacturing trade, which is the largest industrial sector in Canada, currently employing approximately 1.7 million individuals.

Since THC, the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana, can remain in the bloodstream for weeks, it is difficult to determine the exact time when it was consumed. Therefore, there is currently no testing option to differentiate whether an employee consumed marijuana over the weekend, several days prior before reporting for work, or immediately prior to starting a shift.

In a recent interview with Automotive News Canada, the chairman of the Canadian Association of Mold Makers, Jonathon Azzopardi, calls for a zero-tolerance policy on cannabis for workers in the manufacturing trade.

“For us zero tolerance is you cannot have [cannabis] in your system when at work and the employee is in charge of making sure they have none in their system at work,” said Azzopardi. “I think for any heavy industrial machinery where lives are at risk, I think zero tolerance is the only option… We have to wear safety glasses when we’re on the shop floor. Both parties are punished, and there’s a zero-tolerance level for not wearing safety glasses.”

Due to the lack of testing method to determine whether a worker consumed marijuana at work or after-hours, there are concerns that nearly all factory workers who consume marijuana recreationally outside of work could test positive. Consequently, the increased number of «false positive» failed drug tests would lead to significant increases in termination or refusal of new applicants, potentially resulting in worker shortage in Canada.

However, the zero-tolerance policy will require federal approval, and in the meantime, Canadian industry groups are developing guidelines for dealing with cannabis use in the workplace. Specifically, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has developed a set of guidelines aimed to define the criteria of impairment for employers and human resources managers. The guidelines include a set of employer obligations, including policies regarding substance testing.

Currently, Canadian industry groups have been advised to seek legal counsel regarding cannabis use in the workplace prior to implementing any definite policy. The Canadian Automobile Dealers Association is advising its members to treat marijuana in a similar manner to alcohol, while the Petroleum Services Association of Canada is currently working on developing guidelines for companies aiming to adapt their drug and alcohol policies following legalization of marijuana.