Medical patients in Canada have been accessing cannabis products for over a decade, but new laws allowing adult use (aka, consuming cannabis for non-medical reasons), have prompted employers to add cannabis clauses to their workplace impairment policies, typically prohibiting use at work.
But what if you use cannabis therapeutically? Here, certified human resources leader Erin Gratton, who is also the founder and chief learning officer of High Values HR, gives Leafly the lowdown on medical cannabis patients’ rights at work, plus tips for talking to your boss about medical cannabis.
Employee rights and responsibilities
Employers have a duty to accommodate patients who have been authorized to use medical cannabis, just as they would accommodate anyone else taking a prescribed medication. Employers must provide workplace accommodations, to the point of undue hardship (in other words, they must accommodate unless doing so is harmful to the regular business of the company).
That said, if you face barriers to managing health while at work, it’s up to you to approach your boss or HR reps for help.
“I often hear employees say they get really nervous about the level of disclosure required of them; potentially providing medical information can be a scary thing,” says Gratton.
Luckily, you’re not expected to disclose all your personal health business—Gratton recommends visiting the Canadian Human Rights Commission to learn more about the questions your boss can and can’t ask you about medical issues.
Keep employee documents and authorizations up to date
Some employment contracts include clauses requiring mandatory or voluntary disclosure of certain medical information, especially in safety-sensitive roles. Gratton recommends asking questions when reviewing employment documents, and having an open dialogue around a company’s policies.
And remember—only patients have patients’ rights, meaning you must be medically authorized to use cannabis in order to receive workplace accommodations.
Self-diagnosis is risky in the workplace, says Gratton, and tribunals have generally not been sympathetic towards cases involving self-diagnosis or self-medication. Since employee rights do not extend to adult use (aka recreational consumption), ensure your documentation is up-to-date at all times if you need accommodation.
How to talk weed with your boss
Disclosing health information can be difficult in a work environment, especially when discussing a medication as stigmatized as cannabis. Most workplaces will have a standard policy in place, but if you need further accommodation Gratton says it’s important to make formal requests in writing, and to abide by the company’s internal process.
“Actually use the words ‘workplace accommodation’—it will get their attention,” she advises. “And be prepared to discuss barriers that exist at work and what you need.”
An employee isn’t required to share their diagnosis to their employer, but may be asked for a prognosis. Employees can be asked how often they need to medicate, and at what times, and may also be asked about methods of consumption. “Your employer can also ask where your cannabis is sourced from,” says Gratton. “Illicit forms of cannabis would be considered adult use or recreational from an employer perspective,” meaning they don’t count as authorized medicine, regardless of your medical status.
Medicating at work
Get all your ducks in a row, and remember to be responsible and courteous with your medical cannabis consumption at work.
“Normalization is new, and people can have concerns that don’t necessarily come from a place of stigma. I think common courtesy goes a long way,” says Gratton. “If someone is complaining about exposure to smoke, or anything else that’s a potential safety issue, we need to take that seriously.”
Avoid accidental impairment when medicating at work by observing the adage start low and go slow. Since new products can have unpredictable outcomes, Gratton recommends test driving them at home first. “I would suggest avoiding trying a new product at work, especially if cannabis is new to you,” she advises. “Choose ideal strains and methods of consumption conducive to your work experience.”
In many ways, the world is looking at Canada to see how employers accommodate medical cannabis patients. Gratton points out that, in many instances, the process of workplace accommodation around medical cannabis has a steep learning curve—on both sides.
“Workplace accommodation is a two-sided process, especially when it comes to the topic of medical cannabis,” she says. “It’s important to have a safe and open dialogue to be able to reach a common understanding on how we can create a safe and inclusive work space for all.”