Employers may be confused and uncertain how legalized cannabis use impacts their workplace, including how they can monitor and regulate it. It is important to understand the difference between using weed recreationally and for medical reasons – they are treated differently, at law.
The Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”) applies to both recreational and medical cannabis. However, unless an employee has an actual, or perceived, addiction to cannabis, or must use medical cannabis due to a recognized disability, the recreational use of cannabis is unprotected by Ontario’s human rights law.
Essentially, using pot recreationally, absent an addiction or to treat a recognized disability, is not protected by the Code. As a result, if these circumstances do not exist, employers are lawfully entitled to:
· impose rules for using recreational cannabis in the workplace, preferably by a written workplace policy;
· prohibit every employee from possessing any recreational weed in the workplace (or at work otherwise), despite that possessing small amounts is now legalized;
· stop employees from coming or reporting to work while influenced by recreational pot, even though use is now legal; and
· if these rules are not followed, discipline those employees who do not follow them, including up to termination for cause, if appropriate.
Cannabis use for medical reasons is different. The same rules apply as they do for other medically-necessary drugs or substances. Employees may be protected to use medical cannabis in the workplace. However, employers are entitled to require the employee to provide justification for his or her disability-related need to use medical pot. Employers can also require information from the employee about restrictions arising from the disability itself, or the medical cannabis used to treat the disability. If an employee’s use of medical cannabis creates a potentially serious safety risk in the workplace, and unlike other disability-related conditions, employers may not be obliged to accommodate the employee using medical cannabis, particularly if would cause undue hardship to the employer.
So, the Code may be triggered and apply, but only if an employee is addicted to pot, or it is used by the employee to treat a legitimate, medical condition that is recognized as a disability by the Code. In that case, employers cannot subject that employee to the same rules. Rather, the employee’s right to be in a workplace free from discrimination related to a disability must prevail, as required by the Code, including a potential duty to accommodate the employee.
If the employee’s use of medical cannabis creates no undue hardship to the employer, it may need to accommodate the employee’s use of it in the workplace, or at work. If so, and so long as no serious safety risk is created, the employer may need to permit the employee to use the medical cannabis at work, or while working, but only during break time and subject to Ontario’s smoking and vaping laws. The key is whether the use of medical cannabis will interfere with the employee’s duty to perform his or her duties in a safe manner, ensuring not to create a serious safety risk in the workplace. If so, accommodation is likely required, subject to how and when the cannabis is consumed by the specific employee and subject to anti-smoking and vaping laws in effect across Ontario.
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