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Union ready to fight too-restrictive workplace rules on cannabis

As workplaces across Canada scramble to create rules to deal with legalized cannabis, labour experts are predicting there will be plenty of push back, including legal challenges.

Canada will become the second country to legalize recreation cannabis on Wednesday, prompting public- and private sector companies to modify existing substance-use policies or draft new ones.

In response, the country’s largest private-sector union, which represents thousands of workers in Southwestern Ontario,  already has  filed several grievances and is gearing up to take employers to court.

“We’re seeing zero-tolerance policies, but it’s not just zero-tolerance for impairment, it’s zero-tolerance for use,” said Niki Lundquist, a lawyer for Unifor, a union representing 315,000 workers across Canada.

“It’s as though an employer suddenly thinks it has the right to police off-duty conduct.”

A leading labour lawyer says the rules governing what employees can do during work hours are straight forward, but the issue gets trickier when it comes to mandating what workers do in their own time.

“It’s going to be really difficult to regulate what you do off duty.” said Mario Torres, an Ottawa-based labour-employment lawyer.

Rather than craft new policies to deal with cannabis, most employers are relying on established legal principals already in place that can apply to cannabis. Just how strict the marijuana-use rules are will depend on nature of the work, Torres said, noting riskier jobs will come with tightened rules.

“The culture of the workplace should determine whether you’ll have an issue as to the time period before your employee arrives to work before consuming cannabis,” he said.

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