Cannabis impairment at work

Cannabis impairment at work : NS Labour and Advanced Education, Health and Safety

Cannabis use can affect your ability to do your job safely. Employers may want to consider the impact impairment has on their workplace.

One way to understand the risks of impairment is to conduct a workplace hazard assessment. Depending on the nature of the workplace, you may determine if strategies like policies, training and related processes are needed to address any identified risks.

The legalization of cannabis has not resulted in any changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The act already requires employers to ensure the safety of those at or near the workplace through the internal responsibility system and, depending on the number of employees, through policies and an occupational health and safety program.


How cannabis can impair you

Cannabis impairment is a health and safety concern in the workplace because it can impact your ability to perform physical and mental tasks. This can put you and others at risk of injury or death.
According to Health Canada and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, the physical and cognitive effects of cannabis can include:

  • dizziness
  • reduced reaction time
  • degraded coordination
  • impaired motor functioning
  • disorientation
  • deficits in attention span
  • body tremors
  • compromised concentration, memory and decision-making
  • changes in perception
  • time distortion


Workplace safety and the Occupational Health and Safety Act

The Occupational Health and Safety Act establishes that everyone in the workplace, including the employer, employees, contractors and others, has a responsibility to ensure their own safety and the safety of others. The act recognizes that safety is a shared responsibility, and each person's responsibilities are determined by their authority and ability.

Employer responsibilities

Employers are responsible for ensuring the health and safety of everyone at or near the workplace. Employer responsibilities include:

  • maintaining necessary equipment and facilities
  • consulting and cooperating with the joint occupational health and safety committee or safety representatives (in cases where the Act requires them)
  • addressing employee exposure to health and safety hazards
  • providing information and/or training on workplace hazards and safe work procedures, where applicable

Employee responsibilities

Employee responsibilities include:  

  • taking every reasonable precaution to protect their own safety and the safety of others
  • cooperating with the employer and joint occupational health and safety committee or safety representative
  • following safe work practices

The Occupational Health and Safety Act also outlines responsibilities for other people in a workplace, including contractors, suppliers, constructors and owners.
The legalization of cannabis does not change any of the act's existing requirements.

Addressing impairment hazards in the workplace

Depending on the type of job and nature of the workplace, employers can do different things to address impairment concerns. These strategies include:

  • a hazard assessment to identify and understand impairment risks
  • an impairment policy (sometimes called a drug and alcohol policy)
  • communication and/or training to ensure employees understand impairment policies and risks
  • processes to identify, report and address potential impairment concerns


Dismissing an employee for impairment at work

If an employer has concerns about an employee being under the influence of cannabis at work, the employer may question whether to continue that individual’s employment. The Labour Standards Code (PDF) outlines the rules for dismissing an employee.

If you’re concerned about an employee’s cannabis impairment and have questions about how the Labour Standards Code applies, contact the Labour Standards Division at the Department of Labour and Advanced Education.

Phone: 902-424-4311, 1-888-315-0110 (toll free within Nova Scotia)


How the Labour Standards Code applies to cannabis impairment

The rules for dismissing an employee for cannabis impairment depend on the situation.

Dismissing employees with a period of employment of less than 10 years
Under the Labour Standards Code, employers are usually required to give employees written working notice of termination, or pay in lieu of notice. This is not required if an employee is dismissed for “wilful misconduct or disobedience or neglect of duty” that has not been condoned by the employer. Also, the code does not require employers to give employees with less than three months of employment working notice or pay in lieu.

Dismissing employees with a period of employment of 10 or more years
Under the Labour Standards Code, employers are prohibited from suspending or dismissing employees with 10 or more years of service without “just cause”. 
“Just cause” is a broad legal concept that can include intentional misconduct or disobedience or neglect of duty, and also a broad range of careless, thoughtless or negligent conduct by an employee that is harmful to the employer.

Using progressive discipline before dismissing an employee
Finding “just cause” or that an employee is guilty of “wilful misconduct or disobedience or neglect of duty” usually requires that an employer use progressive discipline with the employee prior to termination. Progressive discipline involves warning an employee they must meet specific performance expectations or their employment will be terminated, ensuring the employee clearly understands the warning, and giving the employee sufficient opportunity to meet the expectations.  

Exceptions to the termination provisions
The termination provisions of the Labour Standards Code do not apply to certain categories of employees such as those employed in the construction industry and those who perform work under a collective agreement. Contracts of employment or collective agreement terms will likely include specific termination clauses.