What does legalization mean for the workplace?

What does legalization mean for the workplace? | Insurance Business Canada

What does legalization mean for the workplace?

Canadian legislators made headlines around the world this month, following the final passage of Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, into law. The legislation ends 95 years of prohibition by legalizing the recreational use of regulated cannabis products, but what will it mean for the workplace? Over the next few weeks, ARAG’s CEO, Jo-Anne MacDonald, takes a look at the implications for employees, employers and for insurance brokers.


Up until now, the only legal use of cannabis was for medicinal purposes, but this hasn’t stopped Canadians from using the drug recreationally. While most statistics about illegal drug consumption should be viewed with caution, it is fair to say that Canada has become one of the leading recreational consumers of cannabis, per capita.

So, what will change in the workplace come the Fall, when the first licensed and regulated products start to become available?

Recreational users may feel a little more relaxed talking about how they spent their weekend in front of the boss, but legalization does not give employees carte blanche to use cannabis wherever and, importantly, whenever they like. If in any doubt, it is always worth seeking proper legal advice, which all ARAG Family Legal policyholders can do, over the phone, using our legal advice helpline.

The parallels with alcohol consumption have been made repeatedly in the run-up to legalization, and it is for employees that they are probably most relevant. Here the issue of impairment is key. Staff wouldn’t expect to get away with showing up for work after downing a few beers, and all employees have a responsibility to show up for work in a fit state to do their job.

Just like alcohol, different jobs might also call for different thresholds and different testing regimes.

Motorists have to ensure that their ability to drive safely is not impaired by any drug or alcohol and would expect to be tested if they show any sign of such impairment. Employers have a responsibility for the safety of workplaces, customers and the wider public, and this includes ensuring that employees who drive, fly or operate any other machinery are in a fit state to do so.

Of course, cannabis use has been legal in Canada for various prescribed medicinal purposes for more than a decade. For employees with such a prescription, the Cannabis Act will have little impact.

Employers still have a duty to accommodate the needs of any employee with a disability but this does not override their duties to provide a smoke-free and safe workplace. So, even medicinal cannabis users could reasonably face disciplinary action if their prescribed use impairs their ability to properly do their work.

As with any new law, legislation is never the final step in setting the legal framework, and lawyers are already starting to guess the ground over which test cases may be fought. The Cannabis Act may create almost as much work for employment lawyers as it will for the newly regulated producers.

It’s obviously not practical for the typical employee to stay up-to-date with the latest legal position regarding Cannabis use, even now that it will soon be legal, but ARAG’s Family Legal policyholders can always get professional legal advice and support if they are uncertain about any aspect of the law or find themselves in a difficult situation at work concerning this or any other employment matter.

Jo-Anne MacDonald is CEO at ARAG Services Corporation


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