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The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction Releases Study on Workplace Substance Use Policies

April 25, 2018

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction Releases Study on Workplace Substance Use Policies

Canada continues to move towards the legalization and regulation of cannabis. In response to this reality, on April 20, 2018, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (“CCSA”) released its study, A Review of Workplace Substance Use Policies in Canada: Strengths, Gaps and Key Considerations, on workplace policies regarding substance use. The study is the first of its kind and examines how Canadian organizations approach substance use that affects the workplace. The specific objectives of CCSA’s study were:

  • To review, analyze and provide a general overview of the state of workplace policies on substance use in Canada, their common components, unique elements and gaps;
  • To identify lessons learned and best practices in the development and implementation of workplace substance use policies from the experiences of safety-sensitive organizations; and
  • To determine which policy areas require more guidance, tools and resources, and from this information make recommendations to help improve policy development and employer responses to substance use affecting the workplace.

Data was collected through a comprehensive examination of workplace and policy-related literature, an environmental scan of existing substance use policies in various Canadian organizations, a national survey of select safety-sensitive industries, and key informant interviews of personnel from safety-sensitive industries. The Report found that:

  • Not enough organizations have comprehensive, well-developed substance use policies; which can put the organization at risk for various issues, such as lost productivity, increased absenteeism, reduced employee morale and accountability, liability problems, and safety issues.
  • For organizations surveyed that do have policies, there was an imbalance between disciplinary measures and supportive measures (what we call the ‘hammer vs. help’ challenge):
    • Most policies addressed disciplinary measures, such as procedures for non-compliance with the policy and procedures for immediate termination or suspension.
    • Supportive measures, such as treatment options, support services, accommodation options, education and prevention, were absent or addressed to a much lesser extent.
    • Substance use policies that balance employer and employee needs benefit employees, employers, and the public by setting clear guidelines and expectations that can help to establish a workplace culture that reduces risks, costs, and stigma.
  • Insufficiently developed policies can give organizations the false belief that they are operating with a functional and appropriate workplace policy. These organizations could face difficulties if their policy is ever challenged, which may result in legal consequences and/or negatively impact the workplace culture:
    • Being proactive and performing reviews and evaluations of policies is important to ensure they are effective and up to date, particularly in a changing legal environment. Ineffective policies can put both employees and employers at risk.
  • The vast majority, 84% of employers surveyed, were either very concerned or somewhat concerned about workplace safety with impending cannabis legalization. A well implemented comprehensive substance use policy is one of the best available tools employers have to address substance use in or affecting the workplace.

Substance use has become a growing concern among employers, employees, industry associations, unions, health professionals and insurance companies. The negative consequences of such use can be serious and wide-ranging. Of primary concern is the potential negative impact on the health and safety of the affected employee, their families, and co-workers, and for certain industries, additional risks to the public and the environment. Beyond these concerns, substance use can also affect the workplace in numerous other ways, contributing to increased costs, absenteeism, turnover, need for disciplinary action, increased expenditure of organizational resources, as well as lowering productivity and workplace morale.
Employers that review this Report can better understand the implications of the impending changes, of insufficiently developed substance use policies, and more importantly, how to improve them. We encourage you to review this Report, its recommendations and best practices, and to assess and update your policies accordingly so that your workplace is ready when cannabis is legalized later this year.
The Report, A Review of Workplace Substance Use Policies in Canada: Strengths, Gaps and Key Considerations, can be found here. A summary of the Report can also be found on the CCSA website.
If you are looking to update your workplace policies, or if you have any questions about this topic, or any other questions relating to workplace law, please do not hesitate to contact a Mathews Dinsdale lawyer.

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