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Medical Marijuana and the Employee Benefits Industry.

In April of 2017, Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaw Companies Limited announced that their group benefits plan would provide coverage for medical marijuana, up to a maximum of $1,500 per year. This coverage is limited to those who suffer from neural and muscular pain associated with multiple sclerosis and nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy for cancer patients. It is expected however, that the range of illnesses that the plan covers will expand in coming years.
From this news release alone, it seems that medical marijuana is knocking on the doorsteps of the employee benefits industry. Major contributing factors as to why it has not traditionally been covered under benefit plans include that it is not yet approved by Health Canada for safety, efficacy, and quality and has not been issued a drug identification number. However, if plan sponsors decide they want to cover medical marijuana under their plan, this expense can be reimbursed through a health spending account.

There are a lot of questions to be asked about the coverage of medical marijuana. Take for example a forklift operator who has obtained a prescription and believes that they are permitted to consume medication on their breaks. The side effects could endanger both the employee and other staff members upon returning to work, creating major safety issues. This brings about questions around when employees should be allowed to use medical marijuana and what preventative measures should be put into place to ensure that issues relating to productivity, safety, and misuse do not occur.

While many of these questions do not have clear answers there are certain steps that should be taken to provide greater transparency to these issues. To begin, employers will want to seek out medical documentation that clears an employee of completing workplace tasks while receiving treatment. If the inquiry indicates a meaningful impairment in the employee’s ability to do their jobs, the employer may not be responsible to accommodate their request. Further paperwork should include a workplace accommodation form which provides details of the medical condition and indicates restrictions and specifications on usage. The accommodation plan could address the type of treatment (oil, topical cream, edible, smoking, etc.), where the prescription should be stored and used and potential disciplinary actions.These are just a couple of the steps that could be taken to ensure that medical marijuana coverage can be achieved in a safe and effective manner. While it may not make sense for every business it is definitely a matter that each employer should spend some time thinking about to determine whether or not it may be right for their business.

If you have any questions on this topic, or anything else pertaining to your group benefits plan, please don’t hesitate to give your Silverberg advisor a call.

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