The Canadian Bar Association
Employment & Labour

Duty to accommodate employees with medical marijuana prescription

As medical marijuana is used more frequently, it will become crucial for employers to handle requests for accommodation appropriately, Toronto employment lawyer Stuart Rudner told attendees at a recent workplace health and safety conference, CBC News reports.

"Often when I tell employers they have to accommodate medical marijuana, their eyes widen, and they envision you know, basically people smoking up in the lunchroom. And it's very different than that," Rudner, co-founding partner with Rudner MacDonald LLP, told an audience at the Workers Compensation Board of P.E.I. annual Workplace Health and Safety conference.

However, he explained, medical marijuana and other prescription medications, "fall within the definition of disability, so there's a duty to accommodate." As such, he said employers "can't just have a knee-jerk reaction and say 'no.'"

Accommodation, Rudner explained, could simply mean adjusting an employee's schedule to better suit their needs.

"You're never going to have to allow a truck driver to come to work while impaired. But you may have to accommodate them by adjusting their shifts, or giving them modified duties," he said.

Although companies are sometimes wary of asking questions about a medical marijuana prescription over concerns of violating an employee's privacy rights, Rudner told attendees that employers are entitled to understand any limitations on a worker's ability to carry out their job function.

"So if they're going to be impaired, if they can't lift certain weights, if they can't sit or stand. They're entitled to ask for medical documentation explaining that," said Rudner.

"But they can't do what a lot of employers do, which is ask for the diagnosis, ask for the complete medical file, or any other extraneous medical information,” he added.

An employer should never reject any request for accommodation "out of hand," said Rudner, but must instead ensure they have the information required to make a decision.

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