Employment Law

Legal Cannabis and Your Company Policy

By Judith Mewhort on September, 3 2019
3 minute read

Stay up to date

Last October, the Cannabis Act legalized recreational use of cannabis in Canada. Until then, marijuana was legal only for medical use. This sea change in the legal status of marijuana has affected everyone—not only users, but our whole society. Employers, in particular, must address first-ever issues surrounding recreational cannabis use.

For employers, it’s important to understand Canada’s current legislation—and how they fit into the employee benefits landscape. And it pays to keep informed. This October, a second wave of legalization will occur when edible cannabis will be permitted for legal sale. This will raise the potential for marijuana consumption in the workplace. Now's the time to update your company policy.


How Cannabis Use Can Affect Employers

Now that Canadians are legally entitled to use marijuana recreationally, must you allow such use at work?

Legalization of marijuana does not mean that employees can be impaired at work. Employees who use marijuana might be less efficient and productive due to increased inattention or absenteeism. Frequent and prolonged use of cannabis can harm important aspects of thinking, learning, and memory.

Employees who arrive at work under the influence not only perform poorly, but also tend to incur drug-related accidents and injuries. Such incidents could lead to higher insurance costs, as well as more workers' compensation claims.

Impaired employees might also endanger their colleagues. Remember, all employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of all employees per the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Therefore, you must consider the well-being of your entire team when determining an employee's right to use marijuana.



Accommodations Requirements for Cannabis Use

Most employers have rules regarding alcohol use at the workplace. Address recreational cannabis use in a similar way. For example, many employers prohibit alcohol consumption on site—and also alcohol-caused impairment while working. Likewise, you might consider a “zero tolerance” ban on marijuana use at work—and also prevent employees from coming to work "high."

If you're concerned about disability rights, draw a bright line between recreational and medical cannabis use. Employers don’t have an obligation to accommodate employee use unless the employee has a prescription for medical marijuana.

Even a prescription for medical marijuana, however, doesn’t entitle an employee to be impaired at work or compromise their safety and the safety of others. No one has the unrestricted right to use cannabis at work.


Essential Steps for Your Company 

Since the laws legalizing recreational cannabis are novel and evolving, we've yet to see exactly what’s expected for employers. For now, take these steps to keep current:

  • Regularly review and amend company workplace policies and procedures.
  • To control marijuana use at work, follow existing restrictions on alcohol, prescription drugs, and cigarettes.
  • Keep employees informed about new workplace policies and offer relevant training sessions.
  • Conduct a hazard and job-safety assessment for safety-sensitive jobs.
  • Train management staff on how to identify signs of impairment—and on how to respond appropriately. Note: Drug testing is allowed only in rare cases, so accurate identification of impairment is critical.


Don't be caught off-guard by employees who consume cannabis. It’s legal both for recreational and medical uses. Now, as new laws expand and include "edibles," it behooves employers to face workplace cannabis use head on.

Get Ready For An Effective Employee Benefits Program

Benefits renewal time is a great opportunity to revise your current plan. Here’s what you need to know before you renew.


Let’s Talk