New Cannabis Rules Set Off Employer-Labour Strife

The legalization of recreational marijuana next week is reopening old issues and sparking new battles between employers and employees in high-risk jobs that could wind up in the court system.

A recent decision by Air Canada to prohibit all employees in flight operations and aircraft maintenance from using cannabis at all times, both on-duty and off-duty, has raised eyebrows on both sides of the debate.

On Tuesday, rival WestJet Airlines said it, too, will ban recreational cannabis use for employees in “safety-sensitive” positions both on and off the job.

Niki Lundquist, a lawyer with Unifor, a union that represents 315,000 Canadian workers, said the trend is all too common.

“In the past two weeks we’ve been inundated with amended drug and alcohol policies — and those policies actually purport to regulate off-duty conduct, so use of any kind,” she said.

“We see that as a very common feature suddenly, an absolute prohibition on cannabis use and that’s without regard to if it’s impairing, without regard to the legality of it, it’s just a blanket ban.”

She said the union is writing opinions on why such policies won’t stand scrutiny, as well as filing grievances.

It’s preparing to take employers to court if necessary to prove that Canadian law doesn’t allow such “intrusions on employees’ dignity and privacy,” she said.