Weed and the workplace: Many Canadians still uncomfortable talking cannabis with bosses


By Ainsley Smith

While cannabis has been legalized in Canada for over two years, it appears that Canadians are still uncomfortable about discussing their consumption use with not only their loved ones, but their employers as well.

In fact, a survey conducted by Maru/Blue, and commissioned by cannabis-brand FIGR Brands Inc., found that less than two in five Canadians — 39% — were comfortable discussing their cannabis use with their parents, while 17% said they’re comfortable discussing it with their boss. Only 14% said they’re comfortable discussing it with their grandparents.

Discussing cannabis use does seem like an easier conversation to have with your parents, rather than with your boss while you’re hanging out at the watercooler — that is, if you’re still working in an office.

“In 2019, we surveyed Canadians and asked if they felt like cannabis was more socially acceptable since legalization, and almost six in 10 — 59% — said yes. In 2020, we can see a notable shift in the normalization of cannabis, but understandably, some may not be comfortable sharing their consumption with every person in their life yet,” said Harvey Carroll, president of FIGR.

“When it comes to not wanting to talk to your boss about cannabis, I like to think FIGR employees don’t share that sentiment.”

Given the significance of the relationship between employers and those who report to them, managers need to understand their rights and obligations, as well as those of their employees, when it comes to cannabis use. There is also a unique challenge that comes with cannabis, as it’s the only drug that can legally be used both recreationally and medically.

It’s not as simple as alcohol consumption — a few cocktails at lunch can quickly hinder an employee’s performance. With weed, there are various considerations, including the level of THC in a product, a person’s tolerance for weed, and the method of consumption — all impact the drug’s intensity and the duration of any altered state in an individual.

According to go2HR, B.C.’s tourism human resource association, employers have the right to set rules for non-medical use of marijuana in the workplace similar to how they currently set rules for use of alcohol. In particular, employers may prohibit the use of marijuana at work or during working hours and may also prohibit employees from attending work while impaired.

What’s more, under Canada’s human rights legislation, employers have a so-called “duty to accommodate,” meaning companies must “accommodate to the point of undue hardship” a worker who uses marijuana due to disease, injury or disability. Even if an employee has a prescription for medical marijuana, it does not preclude an employer from prohibiting its use in the workplace, but accommodations must be made for such workers.

Workplace rules regarding non-medical use of marijuana may be enforced through the application of the employer’s progressive discipline policy.

As a result, employers at jobs where safety is a priority — such as airlines — have issued highly restrictive guidelines; whereas in office positions, employees are expected to show up able to perform their job. Unless an employee has a legitimate prescription for medicinal marijuana, the workplace does not need to accommodate an employee’s cannabis use.

To ensure that there’s never a grey area around cannabis use in the workplace, employers can start by educating employees about cannabis, update their drug and alcohol policy as necessary, and, above all, ensure that all employees are familiar with the policy in its entirety.

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