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Cannabis Managers are fooling themselves if they think employees understand workplace marijuana policy

Part of cannabis and small business and retail

Director, HR Advisory for ADP Canada, specializing in HR services and human capital management solutions in Canada

Oct. 17 has come and gone, and we’re into the first days of legal recreational cannabis in Canada. While many of the questions about how legalization will be rolled out have been answered, there remains plenty to clarify in terms of how cannabis use will be approached in the workplace.

A recent study Ipsos conducted on behalf of ADP Canada in the weeks leading up to legalization showed a substantial disconnect between managers and employees when it came to their understanding of and preparedness for recreational cannabis in their workplaces. While two-thirds of managers said their employees understood their company’s expectations surrounding appropriate use, more than half of employees said that management had yet to communicate any clear policies or direction around acceptable behaviour.

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Already we’ve seen a number of organizations publicize their employee policies around cannabis use, to mixed public reception. RCMP officers are expected to refrain from cannabis use within 28 days of active duty. Employees in safety-sensitive jobs with WestJet and Air Canada – such as pilots, and those involved in aircraft upkeep and flight operations – are banned from using cannabis whether on or off duty. Countless others have put policies and guidelines in place to ensure that there is no confusion around the place that cannabis has in the organization.

However, many have been slow to properly address this, or worse – management believes they have addressed it, while uncertainty remains among the rank-and-file. To ensure there are no gaps in understanding or communication between management and employees, organizations need to consider five key elements to set proper expectations around cannabis in their workplaces.

Get your house (and policies) in order

If your organization has yet to update its workplace policies and guidelines to include provisions specific to recreational cannabis, it’s not too late – but time is of the essence. Without formal policies in place as official guidelines for the workplace, much remains subject to interpretation, which can lead to confusion and accidental (or even intentional) instances of staff not following expectations. Unless something changes, cannabis is a legal product moving forward, so even if an organization did not have a policy in place on legalization day, it does not mean that they’ve missed the boat entirely. There’s no better time than the present to put policies in place and implement them reasonably and consistently.

Avoid policy paralysis

Many organizations may have been – or still are – wondering how to even approach a policy around a substance that until recently was considered a Schedule II controlled substance. However, chances are the workplace already has policies in place around alcohol and other substances, providing a great starting point when determining what is and isn’t acceptable for recreational cannabis use in the workplace.

Effective communication is an everyday task

While most of the hoopla these past few months has centered on Oct. 17 itself, the reality is that potential cannabis use on the job – just as with alcohol and other substances – needs to be a consideration for companies going forward. That means keeping an open line of communication between executives, managers and employees, and reinforcing expectations on an ongoing basis.

Always lead by example

One of the most eye-catching insights from the Ipsos/ADP Canada recent survey is that managers were twice as likely to say they were at least somewhat likely to use cannabis before or during work hours than employees. Whether this is an instance of individuals with more authority feeling more confident in sharing their intentions with pollsters than those with less, or a true-to-life example of authority dictating behaviour, one thing is for certain. As much as guidelines and policies will help to set expectations, employees will look to leadership for the truest sense of what is acceptable, and it is vital that employers do not condone unacceptable behaviour.

Monitor and mitigate if needed

Executives, managers and HR teams should look at the next few months as a transitional stage. The survey showed that both the managers and employees polled expected to see increases in health and safety issues and absenteeism, and decreases in productivity and quality of work, once recreational cannabis became legal. As with any workplace change, negative impacts on the business need to be identified and reversed as early as possible. If policies put into place are found to be too lenient and are identified as leading to a negative impact on performance, they may need to be readdressed. On the flip side, if they’re found to be too stringent, they could also lead to negative reception from employees, which could have a similar impact.

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Recreational cannabis presents a new issue for organizations, but not one that is totally foreign. By putting thoughtful and thorough guidelines in place, ensuring they are effectively communicated and understood at all levels, implementing them consistently, and by living up to the expectations put in place for others, management can ensure their organizations are adapting quickly for the betterment of both the employer and employees.

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