Cannabis in the workplace is now becoming increasingly complicated. With legalization, more Canadians now use cannabis, but employers remain cautious.

Several years have passed since cannabis has been legalized, but policies around using weed in the workplace remain unclear. In Canada, employers must ensure the safety of employees in their work environment. And in turn, employees must follow safety regulations and report potential hazards. These policies extend to marijuana – employees must not use cannabis while working. The justification is that cannabis can lead to intoxication, which then leads to possible safety hazards.

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All this seems straightforward so far but becomes much more muddled once we look at marijuana usage before work. An employee might come to work with CBD in their systems. Employers might then assess this employee as impaired and unfit for work, but this making this judgment isn’t always easy. For example, I worked at a restaurant as a line cook during my university days. A co-worker of mine came (presumably) high on his last day. Did his work performance end up dropping? Yes, but I cannot say for sure it was because of the weed. He might have simply been unmotivated or unhappy with the job, but our chef ended up kicking him out because he seemed high.

What About Medicinal Cannabis?

If the legal situation wasn’t complex enough already, it becomes even more complicated once we consider medicinal cannabis. According to Canadian law, employers have the duty to accommodate employees with medical needs. This legal requirement extends to workers using cannabis for health-related issues. So if an employee receives medical authorization to use cannabis, then employers must accommodate their medical needs. In turn, workers must disclose their medical cannabis use to their employer. If the worker fails to do so or is using cannabis recreationally during work, then employers will have grounds for termination.

Workplace Cannabis and Conflicting Attitudes

Before we can start clarifying rules, we might need to address attitude differences between workers and employers. Generally speaking, workplaces hold restrictive attitudes towards workers using cannabis. In 2021, about 86% of Canadian workplaces banned cannabis before and during work. By comparison, most Canadians do not believe that recreational cannabis negatively impacts work quality, productivity, or health or safety. To help bridge differences, employers could start an active and open conversation with employees regarding cannabis usage. This way, rules can better fit the expectations of both employees and employers.

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