An employee with medicinal marijuana plants in the flowering room at Tweed INC. in Smith Falls, Ontario, on December 5, 2016. LARS HAGBERG/AFP via Getty Images

As health experts urge people to maintain social distancing, it remains to be seen how effectively Canadians can best practice this in the workplace.

As far as federal legislation goes, there is no law in place that “requires employers to provide workers with paid sick leave and only two provinces — Quebec and Prince Edward Island — offer paid sick leave,” National Post reports.

“These are tight times for the cannabis industry, but our people are our most important assets,” says Dan Sutton, CEO of B.C.-based cannabis cultivation company Tantalus Labs. The company is a frontrunner in the cannabis space in terms of implementing a policy to respond to a potential outbreak at work.

Additionally, there are benefits packages for salaried employees and the company is prepared to offer extended sick days. “If an hourly employee faces financial difficulties arising from a two-week absence from work, we are ready to have that conversation,” says Sutton. As for paid sick leave, “we intend to discuss that on a case-by-case basis as our team comprises only 43 people with over 70 per cent on salary that would entitle them to paid leave.”

Retail stores double up precautionary measures

Customer-facing roles are at greater risk, urging management to take additional precautions.

Apart from getting paid sick leaves, employees at Superette, an award-winning retail chain, can count on additional resources should a situation of self-quarantine arise, says Lauren Davie, vice president of retail and sales.

As far as preventing outbreak goes, vigorous hygiene standards are maintained at the flagship store in Ottawa — frequent sanitization of high touch points areas in the store such as the ID check, diner booths, budtender bar and others. The menu to make purchases, printed on paper and in plastic coverings, is wiped down with disinfectant after every customer use. The stores are equipped with additional hand sanitizer stations.

Management is also encouraging customers to check products online. “Customers can view our inventory menu online via Leafly, while in-store and their mobile devices as well. Our ‘click & collect’ is launching in the next few weeks and enables a quick and easy customer experience,” says Davie.

Elbow tap the new power handshake

“En route to a meeting on Thursday morning, I was surprised to see a man on TTC spray his entire body with disinfectant,” says Jessica Nudo, co-founder of Toronto-based Nudo and Rook Communications.

Nudo is taking a more common sense approach to her operations: It’s essentially business as usual, with a few adjustments. As a three-member team “we are lucky enough to work remotely and conduct a majority of meeting through conference calls. We learned last week from a client that elbow tap is just as effective as a handshake,” Nudo says.

Following suit is Toronto-based medical marijuana data company Strainprint Technologies Inc.

“We’ve reluctantly evolved from hugs and handshakes to ‘foot pumps’ and elbow touches,” says CEO Andrew Muroff.

Starting next week, all the 20 employees at Strainprint will work from home and depending on how things go, even longer. The company’s long had policies for both paid and unpaid sick leaves and regularly support staff that occasionally works from home.

According to Muroff, “We’ve never done it (work from home) before as a whole team, half of our team is remote anyway. The cannabis industry is so young, that I doubt anyone ever has ever tested this.”

Many companies still figuring it out

Canada’s largest cannabis company, Canopy Growth is monitoring the situation closely and has assembled a team to assess and provide global and regional directives. “Currently, we’re advising employees who are able to perform their duties from home to do so, and travel restrictions are in place,” says Jordan Sinclair, vice-President of communications and media.

As for Edmonton-based Aurora Cannabis, all business travel has been paused and the staff has been advised to defer personal travel. Employees are being provided with the option to work from home as well. “We recognize that the situation is evolving and will continue to assess daily. Our production facilities remain fully operational and we have not experienced any disruptions to regular operations, including our existing supply chain,” says Michelle Lefler, vice-president of communications.

Following the World Health Organization’s announcement that the coronavirus has become a global pandemic, many companies are now actively testing operational protocols.

The 80-member team at Toronto-based cannabis tech company Ample Organics has decided to have its employees work remotely. “We’ve been watching the news over the last couple of days, observing what other companies have been proactively doing in light of COVID-19, and we have been trying to figure out the best course of action for our organization,” says Amy Prentice, director of PR and Communications.

On Thursday, the company determined that starting March 16 until April 1, employees are going to begin working away from the office. Prentice says, “After that, our team will receive an update from our leadership to communicate our next steps. This, we feel, is the best way for us to protect our staff and their extended families — and to cut down the spread of the virus.”

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Jessica Nudo

Editor, photographer, storyteller.