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Medical marijuana and your business


We’ve been hearing lots of talk lately about the legalization of medical marijuana and the possible repercussions on job sites. It’s an important topic – there have already been court cases surrounding marijuana use by workers, and the law says employers in Canada have to make accommodations for the legal use of marijuana by employees. It’s obvious this discussion won’t be over any time soon, especially since the use of medical marijuana is expected to continue rising over the years.

Even with the big changes brought on by legalization, there’s one important thing that hasn’t changed – safety is still the number-one priority on a construction job site. So how can we reconcile the need for safety with the need to accommodate the medical use of an impairing substance?

It’s something employers are going to have to deal with more and more, but it’s not entirely unfamiliar ground. After all, marijuana use is only one possible way workers could be impaired or compromised on the job. Other prescription medications, illnesses, injuries, and more can all lead to workers being unfit for duty.

To help determine whether a worker is capable of safely performing their job, employers can turn to fit-for-duty assessments and their own company’s policies on fitness for duty.

Fit-for-Duty Assessments

An employer can request a fit-for-duty, or fit-to-work, assessment for new hires or current employees. These assessments are conducted by medical professionals and aim to determine whether someone is physically and mentally capable of performing their job tasks safely.

Assessments are often requested for new hires as part of the screening process, or to be sure that employees who have suffered an illness or injury are ready to come back to work. A company’s fit-for-duty policy can play a big role in determining when assessments are needed.

Company Policies Concerning Fitness for Duty

Because of the dangerous nature of construction work, it’s a good idea for all construction companies to have policies outlining fitness-for-work requirements. And, because companies are required to provide accommodations for employees under certain circumstances, the procedures for those accommodations should be included as well.

Here are some considerations when developing your company’s fit-for-duty policies or best practices:

  • What do the terms “impairment” and “fit for duty” mean to your company? How does being unfit for duty compromise job safety?
  • How do workers know if they’re unfit for duty? How does the company decide?
  • There are many substances that can cause impairment to cover in the policy, including alcohol, prescription drugs, medical marijuana, and other drugs.
  • Enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy for marijuana can conflict with requirements for accommodation, so avoid the term. Instead, word general policies regarding impairment to include the use of marijuana.
  • Companies are required to reasonably accommodate workers taking prescription medications, including marijuana. Know the extent of those requirements and how you can fulfill them.
  • Do you have clearly defined procedures for deciding when a medical fit-for-duty assessment is necessary?
  • The responsibility for keeping a job site safe falls on both employer and employees. If a worker is taking a medication or has an illness that could lead to impairment and a safety risk, they need to disclose this information so accommodations can be made.
  • It’s not enough to write these policies down and bury them in a manual – make workers aware of them, and enforce them.

 Updating Your Safety Program

If your company’s safety program doesn’t already include a section on fit-for-duty policy, you need to add one, pronto. And with the rising use of medical marijuana, it’s high time (pun not intended … okay, mostly not intended) to adapt your policy to include its use. As an employer, you have two important legal requirements at risk without a policy in place: your obligation to safety and your obligation to accommodate workers with a prescription.

Creating and refining company policy can be tough, but Boreal can help you get your official safety program up to date with a modernized fit-for-duty policy. We’ll work with you to incorporate all the considerations mentioned above, so your program will cover a wide variety of fit for duty scenarios.


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