Medical marijuana-using welder must give employer treatment records: arbitrator

A worker who used medical marijuana has been ordered to give his employer any medical records touching on his treatment.

The worker was a long-service journeyman welder employed at the employer’s potash mine.  He claimed to suffer from an anxiety disorder and headaches.  He obtained a prescription for medical marijuana to treat his medical condition, and an authorization from the federal government for that prescription.  He claimed to use medical marijuana in the evenings, away from work – not in the workplace.  He disclosed this information to the employer’s workplace occupational health nurse.

The employer then suspended the employee and placed him on leave until he provided evidence that he is no longer being treated by a prohibited substance that exceeded the employer’s identified thresholds and caused impairment. The worker discontinued his marijuana use and filed a grievance alleging discrimination because of his “medical prescription”.

The employer demanded that the employee produce his application for medical marijuana authorization, and medical records pertaining the conditions treated by the medical marijuana and the treatment proposed or undertaken.  It argued that without that information, it could not assess whether marijuana is an appropriate treatment, whether a more appropriate treatment was available, and whether the worker was fit to work in a safety-sensitive position while under the influence of marijuana.

The arbitrator noted that because the employer had acknowledged, in a communication with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, that the employee suffers from anxiety and cluster headaches, it could not resile from that admission in this case.  As such, the employer was not entitled to medical documentation about the worker’s “underlying disability”.

The employer was, however, entitled to medical documents relating to the employee’s current or proposed treatment.  The availability of alternative treatments was an issue in the arbitration. The employer could not argue its case if it was not permitted to have access to the medical records dealing with the worker’s proposed and undertaken treatment.  Further, the union was challenging whether the worker’s prescription and use of marijuana would cause impairment such that he would be unfit and/or unsafe for work.  This also made the treatment documentation relevant.  The arbitrator decided that the employer should be permitted to determine what information the employee’s doctor had about the worker’s “Fit for Duty workplace requirements” in terms of permitted treatment options, strain potency and frequency of marijuana use, and whether alternative treatments were available, appropriate and/or recommended.

United Steel Workers, Local 7656 v Mosaic Potash Colonsay ULC, 2016 CanLII 18320 (SK LA)

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Adrian Miedema

About Adrian Miedema

Adrian is a partner in the Toronto Employment group of Dentons Canada LLP. He advises and represents public- and private-sector employers in employment, health and safety and human rights matters. He appears before employment tribunals and all levels of the Ontario courts on behalf of employers. He also advises employers on strategic and risk management considerations in employment policy and contracts.

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