It’s complicated: Testing workers for pot lacks ‘one size fits all’ solution

Conference Board of Canada report

OTTAWA — Nearly a year after legalization, Canadian workplaces are a hazy hodgepodge of varying policy approaches when it comes to testing workers for marijuana usage.

Only 41 percent of organizations have employee alcohol- and drug testing protocols in place that are applicable to cannabis. Of these, 91 per cent list fitness for duty—the ability to perform assigned duties without limitations from drug use, fatigue, or other stressors—as a main motivator for testing.

The findings are those of the Conference Board of Canada, which examines alcohol and drug testing in the workplace, the complexity of testing for cannabis, and why there is no “one size fits all” solution in its latest report, Fit for Duty: Alcohol and Drug Testing in Canadian Workplaces.

“Testing for cannabis in the workplace is complex, mainly due to the unclear connection between consumption and level of impairment,” says Monica Haberl, senior research associate at the Board. “Additionally, the consequences of impairment vary based on the industry or safety level.”

The report looks at human rights legislation on alcohol and drug-testing in the workplace, common testing protocols, and different types of testing. Also chronicled are the ways organizations define a positive test, steps following a positive test, and established protocols in the event of test refusal.

The Board identifies the following key findings:

  • Cannabis is complex. It is a challenging substance to test for, mainly due to the unclear connection between consumption and level of impairment. To test positive for cannabis means cannabis is present in the body, but it does not necessarily mean the individual is currently impaired.
  • There is no “one size fits all” policy. Ninety-one per cent of employers are motivated by fitness for duty when it comes to why they test. Although there is a common goal, not all workplaces are equal, and as such, consequences of impairment vary based on the industry or safety level.
  • There is no perfect test. Employers should implement the testing method that best reflects their alcohol and drug policy. Forty per cent of organizations have a zero-tolerance policy—suggesting urinalysis testing may be most appropriate. Seventy per cent have a fitness-for-duty policy and may want to consider lab-based oral fluid testing.
  • Alcohol and drug testing should be part of a bigger program. Testing practices should be complemented by resources and support for employees who may have a true substance use disorder, require medical accommodation, or need further education.

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