Risky Business: Medical marijuana causing pains for HR managers

by Rick Geller

The trucking industry has been presented with another minefield to navigate: employees being prescribed medical marijuana as a pain management drug. But this particular minefield contains a red-herring trap that promises to snare unprepared carriers.

There is an element out there that is determined to use this issue as a political plank in the moral and legal battles over whether or not marijuana should be legalized. So we hear arguments about how it’s not as potent or strong as “real” marijuana; how it’s prescribed by doctors; how it comes in different forms for ease of use; how it’s only used outside of work hours; how the effects are individual and not general, and on and on.

Carriers need to sidestep all of the rhetoric and avoid the urge to manage this issue solely through their drug and alcohol policy.

At its core, the dominant issue is whether or not the employee is able to meet all of the job requirements of the position. That’s what the focus must be: how does the usage of prescribed medical marijuana impact the employee’s ability to do the job?

There are a number of pain management drugs available, both prescription and over-the-counter. To some degree, all impact a person’s ability to function. In the case of prescribed pain medications there needs to be a balance between managing the individual’s pain while being the least intrusive into the individual’s ability to function.

If the object of the exercise is for the carrier to determine what restrictions the use of medical marijuana place on the employee’s ability to meet their job requirements, then carriers first need to identify what those job requirements are.

This begins with a written job description. The job description identifies all of the functions and duties of the position. It is almost impossible to identify the job requirements until you first define what the job is. Carriers looking for sample job descriptions and templates of most of the jobs associated with moving freight by truck can check out www.onetonline.org.

Once the job description is complete, carriers need to identify the specific job requirements. For example, the job description might include the need to tarp loads and require the ability to lift a 40-lb. tarp and distribute it across the load.

When developing job requirements, carriers should consider the physical and legal requirements associated with driving a truck and delivering freight. These can include elements such as having to sit for extended periods of time, having to maintain focus, recognize hazards, and make critical decisions within the context of the environment in which they drive; ability to cross borders, amongst other issues and elements.

Armed with this information, carriers can then determine the extent of any restriction or limitation the medication has on the individual’s ability to meet the job requirements. Carriers may be well advised to engage the physician that prescribed the pain medication and have the physician identify any restrictions usage of this medication has on the individual’s ability to meet the job requirements.

Obtaining legal counsel would also be appropriate in terms of border crossing and compliance issues, as well as any accommodations that the carrier may be required to make in order to support an injured or disabled employee.

Once all of these factors have been taken into consideration, the carrier can then make a determination whether or not to continue to offer employment to the individual and, if so, with what conditions and restrictions.

For carriers, the trap to be avoided is to over-react to the fact that marijuana is being prescribed. This is simply another pain management medication that is being made available to patients.

Carriers need to focus on the person’s ability to meet the job requirements. If there are any limitations or restrictions on that ability, then what is the operational impact to the company? All employers, not just trucking companies, are required to make reasonable accommodation for their employee in these cases.

This determination can only be made when you have a written job description, as well as written job requirements for every position in your company!

Rick Geller, CRM, has been providing innovative and cost-effective risk management solutions to the trucking industry for more than 30 years. He serves on the board of directors for both the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario (TTSAO) and the Professional Truck Driving Institute (PTDI). He is also the incoming chair of the Toronto Chapter of the Fleet Safety Council, as well as an executive committee member for both the Ontario and Toronto Regional Truck Driving Championships.

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  • Are you saying we could allow a driver to operate safety sensitive equipment while using (medical) marijuana even though DOT regs strictly prohibit it ? Would not the regs supersede in this matter?
    Thank you.