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Marijuana-smoking employees to get weed breaks at Denver businesses

Andrew Seale
A man smokes a marijuana joint outside Congress where lawmakers debate a bill to legalize marijuana and regulate production and distribution in Montevideo, Uruguay.

In a bid to keep the creative flow aloft, Denver-based cannabis businesses devised a simple solution – take a ten-minute weed break.

“If it helps our employees get work done, then we don’t care if they consume at work,” Kyle Sherman, co-founder and CEO of Flowhub, a company that provides software to companies in the burgeoning cannabis industry, told CNN Money. “It definitely surfaces new ideas and a fresh take on things.”

Both Sherman and his business partner Chase Wiseman say they frequently smoke weed during the day.

The news certainly highlights the changing attitudes towards marijuana but toking up while at work in most states and provinces is apt to get you an appointment with human resources.

“This is something that is hugely on the forefront especially under our new government who is trying to legalize it,” says Carey McBeth, a Vancouver-based business and lifestyle etiquette expert.  “You’re going to see it (come down) to company policy as to what is acceptable and what isn’t – it’s going to pose some interesting challenges for human resources.”

But smoking and perhaps, more associatively, smoke breaks seem to be going the other way with tobacco users on the decline, falling from 20.8 per cent of the population in 2010 to 18.1 per cent in 2014 according to StatsCan.

It may not seem like a lot but nearly half of Canadians smoked in the 1960s.

“Smoking is no longer considered the cool thing to do – the media is calling smoking bad, the public opinion is going against cigarettes, nobody likes the smell of smoke on somebody,” she says. “For companies it’s a real negative on their brand for an individual to have to walk through a plume of smoke to get into their business.”

But it’s not just about brand image; smoking has economic impacts as well. According to a report by the Conference Board of Canada, smoke breaks cost a company about $4,200 a year – $3,800 in lost productivity due to all the unsanctioned “slipping away for a dart” and $400 in lost productivity from absenteeism.

“If you think about it, a smoker will typically go out for 10 to 15 minute smoke breaks several times a day, which if it’s say, four times a day, is the equivalent of one hour off of work time,” says McBeth. “When you’re gone those 15 minutes, maybe your colleagues are trying to get a hold of you and you’re not available and that ends up affecting their productivity.”

Unfortunately, convincing employees to butt-out altogether has proved difficult.

In 1998, mining company Cominco adopted a non-smoking policy at its Trail, B.C. smelter. Smokers were forbidden to smoke during their eight- to twelve-hour shifts. The United Steelworkers of America union fought back and ultimately, the arbitrators sided with the union on the grounds that while the staff’s “right to smoke” isn’t protected under the B.C. Human Rights Code, the withdrawal symptoms frequent smokers might experience during that time are effectively the byproduct of an addiction and thusly considered a disability.

The result? Businesses looking to post a “no smoke breaks” policy could face human rights violations. But technically, smoking breaks aren’t included under The Employment Standards Act. So the whole thing gets kind of murky.

“There’s nothing wrong with being a smoker, you have your right to smoke but it’s being mindful of those around you,” says McBeth. “We are seeing smokers smoking in the stairwell because it’s minus eight out and they don’t want to stand outside – that’s definitely against the etiquette, if there are signs that say ‘do not smoke’ please respect those signs.”

As for weed, well that’s a different story, in Canada workplace rules against smoking tobacco don’t apply to medical marijuana.

“With marijuana, it’s about people and public perception,” says McBeth. “That’s the biggest thing.”