Medical Marijuana: What Employers Should Know

Posted Mar 8th, 2017 in Tips & News

Along with legalization of marijuana use come confusion, questions and concerns by employers, HR specialists and safety leaders on how to handle a drug that is now legal.

As the use of medical marijuana increases, employers will need to make changes to their workplace policies. Employees may be prescribed medical marijuana to cope with a number of conditions such as arthritis, cancer, chronic pain, or sleeping disorders. Medical marijuana must be treated like any other prescription medication.

Much like other medical drugs, a prescription for marijuana does not give the employee automatic permission to use it at work. Both the employee and employer have obligations with regards to its use in the workplace, and must understand their rights and responsibilities because of the various ways that its use impacts the employer-employee relationship.

An employee's need to consume medical marijuana triggers an employer's legal obligations. Section 5.1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code dictates that an individualhas the right to equal treatment with respect to their employment without discrimination on the grounds of "disability". 

The use of medical marijuana in the workplace is also governed by Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Employers have the duty to "take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker" under section 25 of the OHSA. Therefore, employees do not have a right to be impaired in the workplace where that impairment may endanger their own safety or the safety of others.

To evaluate the employee's capacity to continue to do their job safely, the employer should request medical histories from the employee as to their capability to safely carry out assigned duties. Employees, especially those in safety-sensitive positions must inform their employers if they have been prescribed medical marijuana. If a significant impairment is identified then the employer is not necessarily required to accommodate the employee's request to use medical marijuana, particularly when the position involves the use of safety-sensitive equipment. 

An employer will likely be obligated to accommodate an employee in such ways as allowing a leave of absence while the employee is undergoing marijuana treatment, or providing alternative forms of work that do not endanger the safety of anyone. It is important for employers to understand that they have a broad obligation to investigate and make efforts to accommodate employees using prescription medications, including medical marijuana.

Employers are encouraged to fully understand their obligations with regards to accommodation, and workplace policy addressing the appropriate use and disclosure protocols for medical marijuana.

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