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Cannabis in the workplace – what you need to know

Wednesday November 27, 2019

It’s been a little over a year since the legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada. Many Canadian companies updated their policies on drug and alcohol use ahead of legalization—especially those with employees working in high-risk positions. But with cannabis edibles also legalized as of last month, many employers are still struggling to find a balance between having a safe and productive workplace and maintaining the privacy and human rights of their employees.

A recent study from the Conference Board of Canada examined the impact of recreational and medical cannabis in the workplace. Their research highlighted that from a health and safety perspective, the functions and effects of edible cannabis are very different than those of inhaled cannabis, and may pose a greater workplace safety risk. The research also showed that employees of organizations with mature policies and plans in place to manage recreational cannabis risk, and clear guidelines on how to facilitate employee medical accommodations, demonstrated more discretionary effort, less absenteeism, and greater engagement and productivity.

Here are a few facts to consider when developing your cannabis policy:

• Smoking or vaping cannabis in an enclosed public place or enclosed workplace is prohibited.
• Cannabis in the workplace should be treated in the same manner as any other potentially impairing drug.
• You do not have a duty to accommodate recreational cannabis use. However, you do have a duty to accommodate a disability that requires the authorized use of medical cannabis, and to provide assistance to a worker who may have a substance use disorder.
• You have a duty to take all reasonable precautions to protect workers in the workplace if there is a legitimate concern for the safety of others or the business.
• Commercial drivers face zero tolerance sanctions for the presence of drugs.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations requires you to provide information, instruction, and supervision to employees to protect their health and safety—including providing training to employees on the dangers of using equipment or machinery while impaired, and training for supervisors on how to recognize the signs of workplace impairment. You are also required to prepare and review a written occupational health and safety policy, and to develop and maintain a program to carry out that policy. As part of the policy, you should include a section that addresses workplace impairment arising from substance use.

For additional information on cannabis in the workplace, please refer to the Impairment and Workplace Health and Safety section of the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development website:

Our Human Resource Director, Dinah Bailey, would also be happy to assist you if you have any questions. Dinah can be reached via email at


Human Resources