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Prescription cannabis patients at risk of discrimination in the workplace, says report

What are your rights as an employer and an employee?

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Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for an employee who is disabled.

Employers may be breaching the Equality Act over their approach to prescription cannabis patients in the workplace, according to a new report. What are your rights as an employer and an employee?

Published by the Cannabis Industry Council (CIC), ‘The Use of Prescription Cannabis at Work’, highlights the challenges facing cannabis patients at work, offering guidance for both employers and employees. 

It comes as increasing numbers of patients say they have experienced discrimination, both at the interview stage and in the workplace, as a result of their cannabis prescription. 

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for an employee who is disabled in certain circumstances. However, the report notes that this is often not being upheld when it comes to prescription cannabis patients, who may live with chronic pain and other disabilities.

Issues have arisen around the vaping and possession of prescribed cannabis flower at work, as well as drug testing, with the authors reporting ‘many’ cases of patients being ‘mistreated’ and ‘harassed’ by their employer over their medication. 

The CIC is now calling on employers to treat prescription cannabis patients like any other medical patients, and to have regard to their legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Co-authors of the report, Mohammad Wasway, founder of The Sanskara Platform, and Guy Coxall of Seed our Future, commented: “We have heard from many concerned and vulnerable patients who have been harassed and mistreated by their employers simply for taking their prescription medication.

“We urge businesses to support their employees, and implement sensible and proportionate solutions that will improve employee wellbeing and productivity.”

Since 2018, specialist doctors have been permitted to prescribe cannabis medicines to their patients, who are then legally allowed to possess and consume this medication.

Employers who fail to uphold the workplace rights of patients, including both employees and interview candidates, are at risk of being taken to an employment tribunal, says the report. 

READ MORE: Medical cannabis in the workplace – everything you need to know

The report goes on to propose ways forward to manage consumption among employees, with step-by-step guidance for employers and case studies in various workplace settings. 

Chair of the CIC Standards Working Group,  Elisabetta Faenza, added: “The Cannabis Industry Council will be working with employers and unions to uphold workplace rights for prescription cannabis patients, based on law, medicine, and basic compassion.

“Many businesses say they are committed to equality, diversity and inclusivity, yet often underdeliver. Now is the time for employers to step-up and support ill and disabled employees.”

What are your rights as an employer or employee?

The report provides legal guidance for both employers and employees around the use of prescribed cannabis in the workplace. We’ve outlined some of the key things to know here:

What you need to know as an employer
  • According to the report, employers should consider establishing a clear policy on the use of prescription medicines in the workplace or amending the Misuse of Drugs and Alcohol Policy. 
  • Job applicants may (but are not required to) disclose their use of prescription medicine during the recruitment stage or in advance of starting work. 
  • An employer may ask about the health of the applicant during the recruitment process, for example, to establish whether they will be able to carry out certain tasks, but must be careful not to breach the Equality Act.
  • Once an employee has started work, an employer can ask for information about their medical condition in order to make reasonable adjustments.
  • Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers should assess the risks associated with any prescription medicine in the workplace. 
  • Reasonable adjustments for employee who is prescribed medical cannabis may include adjusting work hours, providing a private area for medication, or modifying the employee’s duties. 
What you need to know as an employee
  • You are not required to disclose your use of prescription medicine to a potential employer in advance of starting work and a potential employer cannot insist you supply a copy of your cannabis prescription.
  • You should always follow the workplace policy on the use of prescription medicine including any requirements for disclosing use of prescription medicines, risk assessment, adjustments, and training. 
  • You should always consume prescription medicine responsibly and avoid any impairment that could put yourselves or others at risk.

Read the full report here 

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Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister title and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email sarah@prohibitionpartners.com / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag

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