A legal view: Medical marijuana in the workplace

by Sarah Megginson14 Apr 2014
How should HR respond if an employee is given a prescription for medical marijuana, and asks to take his or her medication during working hours?
The answer is ‘very carefully’, according to workplace lawyer Joydeep Hor, founder and managing principal of People + Culture Strategies. 
Generally speaking, if an employee is required to take legitimately prescribed medication during working hours, they don’t need to inform HR.
That is, unless that medication has the ability to impact the employee’s performance on the job, as employers have a general duty to provide a safe workplace.
Technically, most HR professionals in Australia won’t be faced with this specific dilemma regarding medical marijuana; while the World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledges the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids for nausea and vomiting in advanced stage cancer patients, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia does not currently approve cannabis of any type for therapeutic use.
However, it’s important for HR professionals to be aware that employee use of other types of prescription drugs may become an occupational health and safety issue, “if a person’s ability to exercise judgment, coordination, motor control, concentration and alertness is affected at the workplace, leading to an increased risk of injury or illness,” reported the South Australian Government’s Guidelines for Addressing Alcohol & Other Drugs In The Workplace.
This could clearly be an issue in any number of industries. Assuming that the employee’s duties would not be hindered by their medical marijuana consumption, Hor said the key for HR is to ensure that prescription is legitimate.
“It all comes down to making sure there’s the right amount of proof,” Hor said.
“There should be full documentary evidence provided and if even the slightest of suspicions remain, then HR should get the person independently assessed by a medical practitioner to put any doubts put to rest.”

An employer may be found in breach of their general duty to provide a safe workplace, if injury or harm is suffered as a result of an employee’s alcohol or other drug use, so developing a clearly defined policy to manage drug use – prescription or otherwise – could be beneficial.


  • by Catherine 14/04/2014 12:31:09 PM

    Most people might be surprised to learn that many people live and work with chronic pain. This pain necesitates the taking of medications, that most people - who have NO understanding of the mechanisms of pain, would react negatively to - making an addumption that they were effectively "stoned". Chronic pain & illness are Disabilities for the purposes of our Anti Discriminaton framework. Before we assume people are adversly effected by prescription medication (which has a very different effect when taken for recreation use), we should seek professional advice from a Physical Medicine or Injury Management professional.

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