There’s a lot of confusion surrounding medical marijuana use in the workplace. The use of medical marijuana is on the increase—it’s now commonly used to treat symptoms caused by a wide range of conditions, from MS to cancer to chronic pain and seizure disorders. More employees are using medical marijuana at work, but most employers don’t really understand what that means, and aren’t quite sure how to handle it.
To clear up some of the ambiguity (and potentially save you from a giant headache down the road), we’ve put together a quick list of answers to 5 common employer medical marijuana FAQs that outlines the joint responsibility of accommodation.
Do I have to accommodate my employee’s medical marijuana use?
Yes. The duty to accommodate extends to employees who are prescribed marijuana to treat a medical condition. Think of it as you would any other prescription medication. If you had an employee taking painkillers for chronic back pain, you would have to accommodate their pain management requirements. Medical marijuana is no different. If your employee needs medication, you have a duty to work with them to accommodate their needs.
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Does this mean marijuana is legal?
Many folks are still confused about this one, and the laws around this will likely evolve in the coming years. As it stands, only medical marijuana, prescribed by a doctor and used to treat a medical condition, is legal. Marijuana remains a controlled substance, and recreational use of marijuana remains illegal under Canadian law (as of September 2016).
Can I ask them why they need medical marijuana?
Nope. Just like with any other medication, you can’t ask them why they need it or for details on their diagnosis. Frankly, it’s none of your beeswax. What can you ask? You can (and should) obtain documentation regarding permitted use, and the expected period of use, as well as any potential impact on fulfillment of their job duties. Employers have a duty to accommodate medical marijuana use, but employees also have a duty to inform their employer. This means there needs to be some give and take from both parties to facilitate accommodation.
Does that mean my employee can light up wherever they want?
We understand. Unless your business is targeting a very specific demographic, having the reek of pot smoke surround your establishment may project a less-than-ideal image to customers and clients. So how do you fulfill your duty to accommodate without having your place of work smell like a frat house? This is where cultivating clarity and collaboration comes into play. Smoking is smoking, and regardless of what your employee is smoking and why they’re smoking it, the same bylaws still apply.
You have a duty to accommodate your employee’s medical needs, but your employee also has a duty to meet you halfway by communicating clearly and participating in that collaboration. Do they have to smoke their medication or would ingesting it be a reasonable alternative? Can you assign a designated outdoor smoking area away from coworkers and clients? Get creative to make it work for everyone.
What if medical marijuana use impacts job performance or safety?
As with other prescription medications, medical marijuana has the potential to impact job performance. Safety in the workplace is hugely important, and accommodating medical marijuana use shouldn’t compromise that. Every employer has to balance safety with the need to accommodate. This is where each scenario is different, since job descriptions and responsibilities vary widely. Some initiatives to consider? Performance monitoring and testing, regular check-ins and feedback, and (temporary or permanent) reassignment of job duties that may no longer be appropriate.
The takeaway? Both employers and employees have a duty to work together to come up with an accommodation plan that works for everyone and fits for both the individual and the workplace.
Your Engaged HR Assignment: Do you have a Substance Use in the Workplace policy in your employee handbook? Does it fit the accommodation requirements of medical marijuana? If not, there’s no time like the present to incorporate some updates (ideally before you need to refer to them)!
As always, if you need a hand updating your Substance Use policies to fit your organization, you know where to find us!
Disclaimer: We know our stuff but we’re not lawyers, and this article isn’t intended as legal advice on your specific situation.