Employee Benefits

Ask the Experts: Check Out This Essential Industry Panel Discussion

By Kandy Cantwell on October, 4 2018

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Last week, we hosted an “Ask the Experts” panel here in Vancouver. We wanted to give our clients the opportunity to ask specific questions directly to industry experts. We had a great discussion, and attendees learned tons of valuable information.

Now, for those of you who couldn’t make it, we’ve compiled the questions and answers into this blog post. So if you want to learn more about cannabis in the workplace, issues around termination, an employer’s duty to accommodate, and more, then read on!


Experts Weigh In: 9 Discussions on Key Workplace Issues

Before we begin, let’s review the industry experts who were present on the panel:

Judith Mewhort - Montridge Advisory Group
Kandy Cantwell - Montridge Advisory Group
Debra Walker - Chemistry Consulting
Veronica Rossos - Singleton Reynolds

1. With more flexible work arrangements and the possibility of staff working both in Canada and other parts of world, how are benefits and MSP affected?

With flexible work arrangements, employees don't lose provincial coverage if they are still in Canada. If they leave Canada, it depends on where they’re moving, and how long they’re going for. It is important that the employee is aware of the rules around their provincial coverage to ensure that it remains in force while out of the country.  Depending upon the nature of the trip and the country where the employee will be working, you, as the employer, may need to arrange coverage in the new country, or you might need to give them temporary coverage beyond the emergency medical assistance provided by the domestic health plan.

Related Post: How to Protect Employees Who Travel and Work Abroad

Employee benefit plans also don't mandate that people have to work in an office or on a job site. If they work from home they can still get benefits plans. However, if the person is a gig worker or contract employee, then there are different rules. See our blog on dependent contractors to learn more about this.

2. What are the nuances for managers and employers when accommodating for physical or mental health issues?

The first stage is when an employee comes to you looking for accommodation for a diagnosed medical condition. You must accommodate that employee to the point of undue hardship. It is important that you open a dialogue and find out what are their limitations? Measure those against the organization’s needs, for example, if the employee has a physical issue and can’t sit, an easy and relatively inexpensive solution is to provide a standing desk. If the employee has been using heavy machinery, but can't anymore, is there another position within your organization that the employee can perform?

It doesn't mean you need to create a new position for the employee. But it’s important to spend time considering what the company can in fact accommodate. Remember, accommodation is to the point of undue hardship, it's supposed to be hard but if it's going to be unsafe or financially disastrous for the company, then you don't need to accommodate that particular request.

Accommodating where possible is an easy way to keep employees happy and build trust--not only with the employee needing the accommodation, but across the organization as a whole.

And remember, you can always ask for documentation. You don't need to blindly accept the request. You can ask about the length of time they’ll need to be accommodated, and what the circumstances will be. It’s essential to dialogue so each side knows what's going on and what is needed, not just at the outset but throughout the length of the disability or condition.

3. What if I terminate an employee because they are injured, and then they want to return to work after the injury?

In general, terminating employees because they have injuries is never advised. It often leads to trouble down the road.

If you couldn’t accommodate them at the time of injury, and there is an unknown prognosis, then it’s a good idea to keep the dialogue open. Ask the person to let you know what is happening with them, and inform them you’ll need to get a replacement. If they are ready to return to work, and you can accommodate them, by all means bring them back.

However, remember that over time their absence can become undue hardship if they aren’t able to to meet the requirements of the position they’ve been offered.

If an injured employee isn't actively at work, how long should you maintain benefits?

It depends upon the facts but in general it is a good idea to maintain benefits until such time as a long-term disability claim has been processed.  It is very important to create a policy and put it in the employee handbook. Then make sure you stick to it.

For example, sometimes employers can forget about employees on long term disability claims. But remember, that employee will still be submitting claims throughout their disability leave.  So make sure policies are laid out and you treat every case equally. Because if you give extended claims time to one person and not another, there will be trouble.

4. How can I get employees to see the value of life and disability insurance?

This is a more common issue in the younger demographic. Ultimately, it comes back to financial security, and having a strong foundation of protection. This includes life and disability insurance, paying down debt, and having a savings fund.

If you don't have the foundation level built properly, it’s the same as building a house. A weak foundation will make the house fall down, and it will be expensive and traumatic. Many young people would have trouble making ends meet if they missed even one paycheque.

But the nice part is, life and disability insurance is quite inexpensive from an employer standpoint.

If you want to convince employees that this insurance is essential, you can ask them, “If you didn’t get paid next week or for several weeks, how would you pay your bills?”  Most employees do not have enough savings to replace their income for an extended period of time. Remind them if they don't have income because they can’t work, then financial troubles can mount quickly. And that if they were to pass away, there would be bills to be paid.  Ask if they would want to saddle a grieving family member, who may struggle to work themselves, with a financial burden.

5. How are companies going to manage the use of cannabis in the workplace?

Believe it or not, cannabis can be easily addressed. Remember, medical marijuana has been legal in the workplace since 2001. It’s exactly the same as addressing alcohol in workplace. A simple rule to revisit is: “No inebriation in the office.” Also be sure to update your policy to include non-illicit drugs.

An employee should be able to safely do their job. Just like employees shouldn’t take heavy doses of codeine, they shouldn't take heavy doses of marijuana.

Another thing to consider is smokable versus ingestible cannabis. The use of smokable cannabis has a lot to do with smoking by-laws - meaning, no smoking within three meters of an entrance. If an employee has a prescription for medical marijuana, ask if they’re able to get a prescription for an edible. This can make it easier on them as they won’t need to worry about the smoking by-laws.

It’s important to remember that you can’t smell edibles or roll-ons. So determining if an employee is inebriated comes down to watching their behaviour. If their behaviour is out of character or is putting other people at risk, then you need to follow up. Open up the dialogue. It could be anything from a new prescription to personal problems. Don’t automatically assume it’s marijuana.

6. How can I handle a staff member that needs medical marijuana but hasn't informed me, and is using it at work?

This comes down to your duty to inquire. If you smell it or notice anything unusual about their behaviour, pull them aside and ask. You must then accommodate if it’s required.

From a benefits standpoint, most carriers allow medical marijuana to be added to a benefits plan. Individual insurance carriers have guidelines on how to do this. Currently it’s not discriminatory to exclude medical marijuana from your benefits plan. But it’s important to keep on top of this conversation, because that will likely change.

So it’s a good idea to review both your benefit plans and your policy.

7. Can I include guidelines around smoking cannabis within a certain time frame prior to coming to work?  

Unfortunately, no. Determining if and when someone ingested cannabis is too hard to test. So stick with what you can observe and document. At the end of the day, employees need to be fit for work, and capable of doing their jobs. If someone is unfit, they can be sent home whether the reason is cannabis, cold medication, being overly tired, or some other reason which is causing an impairment.

8. What if I’m about to terminate, and the employee tells me they are dealing with a psychological issue?

If you truly didn't know about the psychological issue, carry on with the termination as planned, pay them out what they’re entitled to under the Employment Standards Act and in common law then have a termination letter signed outlining the reasons for the termination along with the details of the severance pay assuming the termination is not for cause.

Regarding accommodation for anxiety, it’s important to find out if it’s being caused by bullying or harassment. If you find out it's not work related, ask what you can do to accommodate. This will depend on the type of anxiety and the employee’s role. Work with the employee and make them feel like they're part of the process. This builds trust, and helps you get buy-in from the employee.

If the underlying cause is related to the workplace, action must be taken in line with your internal policies and the regulations outlined by the Workers’ Compensation Board.

9. I have an employee on maternity leave, and now their role no longer exists. I want to accommodate within a similar role, but just how similar should it be?

When creating a similar role, look at the company location, and the employee’s pay scale, skills level, etc. If the employee doesn't want the role, then officially, they are quitting, and it's not a termination. But be careful of creating a role that is essentially a demotion as this could be a case of constructive dismissal. Remember, documentation is important - making notes of all conversations and keeping any related documentation are essential.

If there is no similar role available due to a change in the workplace such as the introduction of new technology or a merger or acquisition then you're not required to create a new role for them. So in this scenario, you can terminate the employee. The reasonable notice period depends on what is in your contract. Generally, this is one week of pay for every year worked although it is important to consider common law as well.


We hope you found the information valuable and we look forward to hosting another panel discussion next year.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment and we will get back to you. You can also contact us at info@montridge.com.

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