As the use of medical cannabis continues to increase in Canada it has become common for both patients and employers to question how medical cannabis fits in the workplace.
Workplaces have already become used to, and created policies, for conventional medications. Employers have expectations about how these medications will affect the employee and can plan for altered or restricted duty.
Medical cannabis creates a challenge, for both employee and employer, because it is still unknown to many people, and comes with a decades old stigma. Add to that the lack of clear legislation about the medicine and cannabis use in the workplace becomes a confusing subject.
So what does that mean in the workplace, for employees and employers, where each party must consider health, safety and productivity? Both employers and employees have responsibilities to each other that must be respected and met. Communication is key to making cannabis work in the workplace.
In Canada patients are given a prescription to obtain cannabis. Having that prescription ensures that the patient is legally protected by the Human Rights Code - they can’t be dismissed from their job simply because they use medical cannabis. By law, patients with prescriptions must be accommodated.
Having said that, a prescription is not permission to be impaired at work; and employees using medical cannabis need to be treated the same as others on medication that affects their ability to do the work safely or effectively (such as opioids).
It’s important for employers to update their drug and alcohol policies to define impairment and what it means to be fit for duty. Guidelines and boundaries must be established that define the use of medical cannabis in the workplace, when it must be reported, and how the company will work with employees to accommodate their medical needs while still maintaining a safe workplace. These policies must be clear and transparent, and employees must be made to feel that their disability will not have negative repercussions on their employment.
Employees, for their part, need to communicate their use of medical cannabis to their employer and provide their medical paperwork. Employees should be prepared for modified work conditions, such as duties or hours, to accommodate them. This is doubly important in safety-sensitive environments where impairment from medical cannabis could cause harm.
Something else for both parties to consider is how the cannabis is being taken. A no smoking workplace remains one, regardless of a prescription for medical cannabis. In such cases the employee should consider vaporization or ingesting their cannabis as an oil instead. For some patients it is only necessary to use their medical cannabis away from the workplace (i.e. before bed), which makes it easier to avoid situations such as these.
By being clear and direct with each other, employers and employees can make it easy to accommodate the use of medical cannabis in the workplace. In doing so we are also helping to change the stereotypes related to cannabis to make sure that more people understand the value of this plant, and the relief it is bringing to so many people.