03 May 2023, 17:20
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan):

My adjournment matter is directed to the Minister for WorkSafe and the TAC, the Honourable Danny Pearson in the other house. My matter concerns Victoria’s workplace drug and alcohol testing rules.

Pam, as we shall call her, is a highly qualified systems engineer who secured a position with a multinational contractor to VicTrack last December. Her job is an office job. She sits at a desk behind a computer. Pam has a significant history of trauma, which I will not go into now. Suffice to say she has a range of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, and she was prescribed benzodiazepines to treat her symptoms. She used these highly addictive drugs for many years, which led to severe and harmful dependency. Upon emigrating to Australia she was unable to obtain a prescription and was forced to endure horrific withdrawals.

After trying nine different antidepressants she was eventually prescribed medicinal ADJOURNMENT Wednesday 3 May 2023 Legislative Council – PROOF 83 cannabis, CBD THC, for her insomnia and depression. This prescription provided life-saving relief for Pam’s symptoms and allowed her to lead a full life as a contributing member of society. In February Pam did what she believed was the right thing and disclosed to her employer her prescribed CBD THC use. She only uses it at night, which leaves a 12-hour gap before she attends work. Sadly, her employers treated her use of prescribed THC as being in breach of the rail safety law.

Pam was immediately put on a work from home order, then suspended with pay. Most recently she was given a show cause notice. At this point, believing that she would be fired, Pam resigned from her job. The experience has been very traumatic, and perhaps not surprisingly Pam’s depression and anxiety have spiralled.

Pam was effectively forced to choose between leaving her job or going back onto the dangerous medications that caused her so much harm. No-one should have to make that choice.

The VicTrack health and safety policy commits to providing safe and healthy working conditions for all employees, contractors and visitors for the prevention of work-related injury and ill health. If an employee is taking prescription medication in order to prevent their own ill health, surely VicTrack breached its own policy in pressuring an employee to resign for disclosing their prescription medication. This is a systemic issue. Current workplace drug and alcohol testing rules are discriminatory.

They make it impossible for a person to take legally prescribed medicinal cannabis and still hold down a job. They need to be overhauled as a matter of urgency. No-one should lose their job as a result of taking a prescribed medication.

The action I seek is that the minister urgently address this issue, end the discrimination against medical cannabis patients in the workplace and stop the victimisation of great workers like Pam.

Written Answer
Received: 24th July 2023
Hon. Danny Pearson MP
(Minister for WorkSafe and the TAC, Minister for Government Services, Minister for Consumer Affairs)

As Minister for WorkSafe and the TAC, I can provide information about WorkSafe’s approach to alcohol and other drug use as an occupational health and safety issue.

The Government is committed to ensuring Victoria’s workplace health and safety laws remain consistent with contemporary medical advice and treatment plans and are appropriately balanced with workplace safety risks and considerations, which differ across sectors and depend on the workplace risks.

WorkSafe has published guidance on its website for employers seeking assistance with managing risks around alcohol or drug use by employees. The guidance aims to help employers establish a workplace alcohol and other drugs policy so that risks to workplace health and safety associated with the use of alcohol and other drugs can be reduced.

WorkSafe encourages employers to adopt a risk management approach to assist with managing risks associated with any impairment from alcohol or other drugs in the workplace.


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