With the anticipation of the Cannabis Act (Act) becoming law this summer, the production, sale, possession and use of marijuana for recreational purposes may become legal in Canada. And this means many questions for Canadian employers on how to respond to this changing legal landscape.

As an employer, it’s important that you review and revise your existing workplace policies and procedures to ensure they are in compliance with the legislative changes. Keep in mind that until the Act becomes law, marijuana remains illegal other than for medical purposes. However, whether used for recreational or medical purposes, employers must also consider how the use of marijuana may affect the health and safety of employees, the expectations of employees and the need to accommodate employees who have a prescription or an addiction to marijuana (irrespective of what your employment policy says).

Amend employment policies

Just like the consumption of alcohol is restricted in many workplaces, an employer may wish to have a zero-tolerance policy for recreational use of marijuana in the workplace, or perhaps, allow use in social settings (e.g. during a holiday luncheon). In any case, employment policies and procedures should reflect your company’s position on the matter.

As such, your policy should specify how, and to what extent, recreational use will be tolerated in the workplace.

In preparing your employment policies, it is paramount to balance cannabis use in the workplace with your legal obligation to ensure the health and safety of all employees. Cannabis use causes impairment, and impairment leads to safety concerns. While this should be taken seriously in every profession, this is especially important in professions that deal with dangerous tools and machinery.

Accommodate employees who use marijuana for medical purposes

When revising employment policies to restrict the recreational use of marijuana, employers must also be mindful of the rights entitled to employees who use marijuana for medical purposes to, for example, treat an illness or other medical conditions. For those individuals authorized to use medical marijuana (i.e. they have a prescription), an employer has a duty to accommodate. Accommodation may include modifying workstations, working hours or schedules, or transferring departments, up to a point of undue hardship.

The duty to accommodate also extends to employees who have an addiction to marijuana. An addiction may be considered a disability under the Charter of Rights and Freedom, which is a protected right, and as an employer, you cannot discriminate based on the disability. Again, you would be obligated to accommodate up to a point of undue hardship.

If you have questions, speak to a lawyer. These are not trivial matters. Further, ensure that you, as an employer, communicate what’s acceptable, and engage in active dialogue with your employees. Define impairment, outline disciplinary procedures for breaches, and outline how your accommodation policy works (including how it applies to those who have an addiction). Always balance health and safety concerns.

And again, remember that until the Act becomes law, recreation use of marijuana is illegal. Addressing the upcoming changes in your employment policies and procedures now will go a long way in preventing workplace disruption and confusion when the time comes.