Apr 17, 2017

Michelle BraniganBy Michelle Branigan

Last fall we reached out to industry ask for their thoughts and concerns in relation to the Government of Canada’s proposed legislation on the legalization of recreational marijuana. Below you’ll find the results of that survey.

Probably one of the most surprising findings was that 87% of the employers who responded do not have a formal written policy in place that speaks to the use of medical marijuana in the workplace. Another was the reliance on word of mouth to inform employees about the company’s policy on marijuana use — with only 24% getting the “official” perspective during their onboarding.

Under legislation tabled last Thursday, the Liberals would set a minimum age of 18 to buy pot but will allow provinces to up the legal age if they feel the wish to do so. It would also be up to provinces to decide how pot is bought and sold, and at what price.

Many companies will grapple with the idea of changing their policies as a result of the legalization, the tension between being supportive of employees with genuine medical requirements, and the potential liability if there is a workplace incident linked back to recreational use.

There could be roll-on effects as to how companies structure their benefit plans. Not all employers have covered medical marijuana in the past but that may need to be revisited, and cases are already being tested in the courts. Last fall a human rights board ruling in Nova Scotia determined that a man’s insurer must cover his medical marijuana:

Some companies are already making moves to address changes. Shopper’s Drug Mart announced on March 31 that it will be offering roughly 45,000 employees coverage of medical marijuana. Employees will be covered to a maximum of $1,500 annually, however only for specific medical conditions that must be authorized by the insurer: spasticity and neuropathic pain associated with multiple sclerosis, and nausea and vomiting in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

“We regularly review our benefit plans to ensure they continue to meet the needs of our employees while also adapting to changes in the area of drug therapies” said a spokesman for the company.

All employers aim to provide a safe workplace, and the electricity industry has always put this culture at the forefront of everything they do. Employers need to take time now to update their alcohol and drug policies, and ensure they are clear and easily understood. Then they need to ensure that all employees are actually aware of the policy. Communication is key and presuming that everyone in the organization is aware of the company’s stance is, as we’ve seen above, misguided.

Those employees who work in safety sensitive jobs may need to restrict their use of cannabis to be able to function safely, and also respect their co-workers rights. Employees using recreational marijuana also need to understand the short and log terms effects of THC, and how its use outside of work could impact their ability to do their job in a safe manner.

Michelle Branigan is CEO Electricity Human Resources Canada.