August 16, 2018

Canada, Toronto

Half of employers are equally worried about dealing with recreational and medical cannabis


  • 78 per cent of employers surveyed believe their organization’s HR leadership should be very concerned
  • 62 per cent of employers surveyed expect legalization will have a significant impact on workplace policies
  • 27 per cent of employees surveyed describe their workplace as well prepared

Mercer, a global consulting leader in advancing health, wealth and career, and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies (NYSE: MMC), today announced the findings of a survey examining how its clients are dealing with the impending legalization of recreational cannabis, with a focus on workplace policies, health and safety, and extended health and drug plans. In total, 366 clients were surveyed to provide an employer’s perspective. A survey of 1008 Canadians was also taken, to gauge how Canadian employees feel about the impending policy change.

The study found employers feel legalization is an enterprise-wide concern for human resource leaders (78 per cent), the C-suite (45 per cent) and board of directors (39 per cent). Unsurprisingly, the majority of employers surveyed plan to update their drug and alcohol/substance use policy (90 per cent). However, few employers are planning to update other relevant policies, such as code of conduct (38 per cent) and disability accommodation (37 per cent).

“Our data shows that although employers are aware that cannabis legalization will have an impact on their workplace, these impacts haven’t been fully examined across the whole of the organization,” says Alex Boucher, Principal and Total Health Management Leader for Canada at Mercer. “The implications of legal cannabis consumption should be thought through carefully, across the entirety of an organization’s operations, including situations as diverse as forklift operations, holiday parties and decision critical roles - like key leaders. Organizations should also consider the implications for their employee health benefits plans.”

Further, the research finds a disconnect between how prepared Canadian employers and employees feel for legal cannabis: while one-third of employers surveyed feels prepared for legal cannabis, and another third feels somewhat prepared, only one in four Canadians (27 per cent) feel that their employers are ready – and many more simply don’t know.

This makes a compelling case for proactive and strategic policy development and communication, especially since only 22 per cent of employee respondents say their workplace has clearly communicated medical cannabis policies.

While medical cannabis isn’t new, action is still needed to ensure organizations are fully leveraging it for their employee health benefits plans. Many insurers currently offer optional coverage and it’s important for plan sponsors to consider their approach and how it aligns with their total rewards philosophy and how it bolsters their employee value proposition. According to the study, 42 per cent of Canadian respondents expect to see their health and drug plan provide at least some coverage of medical cannabis.

While change is ongoing, there are three actions Mercer recommends to organizations preparing for legal recreational cannabis:

  1. Evaluate your employee health benefits plan: when it comes to medicinal cannabis consider your employee expectations, coverage and corporate philosophies.
  2. Enhance your total health management: More than just legal policy review, or adding “and cannabis” to your existing rules, you can prepare your positions to ensure flexibility to address cannabis for all roles. Your workplace should be ready to respond in every context, whether it is at workplace social events, travel and expense programs, or in criteria for addiction treatment benefits.
  3. Evolve your employee value proposition: communicate and prepare leaders with the information they need to effectively speak to cannabis and workplace issues as they progress.

“The time to act is now,” adds Boucher. “Organizations that wait and see will ultimately be reacting to problems, and not proactively taking action to achieve their goals. If you are not completely prepared to respond to needs, inquiries and challenges, your reaction in the moment may put you at risk.”

Mercer Audience: H+K Perspectives conducted the survey. Data was collected through an online self-completed questionnaire (i.e., via email invitation) between May 15, 2018 to May 29, 2018. A total of 10,835 people from Mercer’s human resources audience were invited to participate with 366 people participating in the survey.

General Population Survey: H+K Perspectives conducted the survey through an online questionnaire between May 18, 2018 to May 25, 2018. A total of 1008 Canadians responded. The margin of error associated with a probability-based sample of this size is +/- 3.1% 19 times out of 20. The data was weighted to Census data to ensure representation by age, gender and region of Canada.

Mercer delivers advice and technology-driven solutions that help organizations meet the health, wealth and career needs of a changing workforce. Mercer’s more than 23,000 employees are based in 44 countries and the firm operates in over 130 countries. Mercer is a wholly owned subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies (NYSE: MMC), the leading global professional services firm in the areas of risk, strategy and people. With more than 65,000 colleagues and annual revenue over $14 billion, through its market-leading companies including Marsh, Guy Carpenter and Oliver Wyman, Marsh & McLennan helps clients navigate an increasingly dynamic and complex environment. For more information, visit Follow Mercer on Twitter @MercerCanada.