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Managing Medical & Recreational Cannabis in Your Workplace

By: Benefits by Design | Thursday November 15, 2018

Updated : Monday June 5, 2023

It’s been a month since recreational cannabis was legalized in Canada, and the country hasn’t gone up in smoke. Although it’s still early days, and therefore impossible to know the full impact on workplaces, there’s no doubt that managing cannabis in the workplace is going to be on employer’s minds as we look towards 2019.

Below, we’ve outlined a couple of key things to continue to watch for as we head into the new year:

Employer Obligations: Medical & Recreational Cannabis

As an employer in Canada, you have several obligations to your workforce, and cannabis is no exception.

1. Duty to Accommodate. Employers have a legal duty to accommodate their employees until the point of undue hardship for a disability and its treatment. This duty extends to employees using medical cannabis (but not recreational cannabis) in the same way accommodation would be required for any other disabled employee who has been prescribed medication for their condition.

Example: an employee who has been prescribed medical cannabis to reduce symptoms of nausea from chemotherapy treatment.

2. Provide a Safe Environment. Employers must provide a workplace that is safe for all employees, and every reasonable precaution must be taken to protect their health and safety.

Example: A forklift operator prescribed medical cannabis may be required accommodation, such as performing a different role, while taking prescribed medication due to their role being deemed a safety sensitive role. This is to protect the employee and other employees from a potential accident in the workplace and meet the requirement of zero tolerance for this role.

Employers and employees alike should note that a prescription for medical cannabis does not:

Spotting Impairment in the Workplace

One of the biggest challenges for employers will be spotting impairment from the use of cannabis. There is no standard definition of impairment, and unlike alcohol, there is no current consensus on safe limits for cannabis use.

Adding to this difficulty is the fact that the effects of cannabis on individuals varies widely. Factors such as frequency of use, height and weight, sex, and the level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can affect a person’s level of impairment. However, there are some common observable effects, such as:

It should be noted that the legalization of recreational cannabis does not give employees the right to be impaired at work. Employers will have to set rules for non-medical use of cannabis. A good “rule of thumb” is to adopt the same stance as alcohol in your workplace.

Updating and Crafting a Drug and Alcohol Policy

A drug and alcohol policy outlines the rules and restrictions of legal and illegal substances for employees and is an essential workplace policy. With the legalization of recreational cannabis, employers will need to update their drug and alcohol policies to include it.

However, the impact of this change need not be significant. In fact, if an employer already has a drug and alcohol policy in place, a simple amendment to include recreational and medical cannabis (if not already present) may be all that is required.

For those employers who do not have a drug and alcohol policy in place, there is no time like the present. We make specific recommendations for what to include in your policy in our downloadable booklet, “Managing Cannabis in the Workplace”.

Want to learn more about managing cannabis in the workplace or crafting a drug and alcohol policy?

Download our e-book on medical and recreational cannabis (PDF 12.9 MB)