Looming cannabis legalization across the country has many employers wondering how they’ll cope with employees who choose to utilize cannabis recreationally. While cannabis in the workplace does bring some cause for concern, employers will also need to tread carefully about how they treat employees who have a legitimate authorization for medical cannabis.
Medical cannabis has been legal longer, although only recently has it gained wider acceptance among medical professionals. As a result, more patients now have access to medical marijuana than ever before. This, in turn, means there’s a greater number of employees using medical marijuana as a treatment.
As the law continues to change and attitudes about medical and recreational cannabis alike continue to evolve, here are some things employers should know about how to handle medical marijuana in the workplace.
1. You Have a Duty to Accommodate
Medical cannabis has been legal in Canada since 2001, which means patients have been legitimately receiving and using cannabis to assist with the management of several medical conditions for years now. Until recently, however, medical marijuana wasn’t widely accepted by the medical community. The people who did utilize it often feared repercussions from their employers.
This has prompted human rights legislation in both the provinces and at the federal level to protect medical marijuana patients. Employers have a duty to accommodate those who have a medical authorization to use cannabis. You cannot punish or terminate an employee for the use of legitimate medication.
If you’re concerned about the employee’s ability to complete their duties, you’re required to modify their duties to accommodate them. An example may be a forklift driver who uses medical marijuana to control chronic pain caused by years of improper lifting, a lack of physical exercise, and poor posture. Operating heavy machinery while under the influence of cannabis isn’t recommended, so you may choose to give this employee a modified role.
2. Accommodation Doesn’t Mean You Need to Tolerate Impairment
You may need to modify an employee’s duties to help them cope with work demands and the use of medical marijuana. The example of the forklift driver is a good one. Rather than allowing this person to operate heavy machinery while using cannabis and potentially harming themselves or others, you offer this person a different job.
The duty to accommodate doesn’t mean you need to tolerate impairment. While it is your duty to find the employee a suitable role, if the employee is unable to carry out his or her duties, you do have recourse. There is no reason you should endanger other employees by allowing an employee to engage in unsafe behaviour. You also don’t need to tolerate absences or other negative behaviours, such as napping on the job or taking extended breaks.
Work with the employee and their medical provider to find suitable schedules and duties, and to accommodate the employee better. If the employee fails to carry out their duties, even after you’ve provided accommodations, you can still reprimand them.
3. Insurance Now Covers Medical Cannabis
Some employers will be interested to note one of Canada’s largest benefits providers, SunLife Financial, now offers coverage for medical marijuana. Other benefits providers are likely to follow suit.
This change shows the changing attitude around medical marijuana. You may wish to review your own policies about medical cannabis in the workplace. You may even consider adding coverage to your benefits package.
4. No Smoking Can Be Enforced
Many medical marijuana patients do indeed inhale their medication, although most are open to other methods of administration. Even if the employee does inhale medical cannabis, you can still enforce no-smoking rules, particularly those covered under provincial law.
As medical cannabis continues to grow in popularity, employers will continue to revisit and review their policies about its use in the workplace.