Marijuana in the Workplace:

What Employers and Employees Need to Know


Marijuana in the Workplace:



This article was originally published in the August 2018 issue of HR Professional Magazine.

Once recreational marijuana becomes legal this October, a major increase in marijuana consumption is expected. According to a study conducted by Deloitte, 22 per cent of Canadian adults currently consume recreational marijuana, at least on an occasional basis, and another 17 per cent would consider trying it after it is legalized.

That’s almost 40% of the Canadian population! It’s not surprising then that employers are concerned about how legalization will affect the workplace.

To date, the government has not specified many details about impairment guidelines; it’s still unclear how an employer may legally determine if an employee has come to work under the influence of marijuana, and what course of action to take. There is an even bigger concern with employees who operate in safety-sensitive roles such as those operating heavy machinery, or workers on a construction site.

The use of medical marijuana has also risen in the last few years. There is growing evidence that suggests medical marijuana plays a role in alleviating pain and can be a viable alternative to prescription medications for various medical conditions and symptoms. Though the workplace guidelines here are clearer, medical marijuana use remains a sensitive matter for employers.

Here are five things employers need to know about marijuana in the workplace:

1. The burden of responsibility lies with the employer and management.

Since Bill 148 (Fair Workplace Better Jobs Act) came into effect in January, 2018, the responsibility lies with the employer to accommodate employees in various situations.

Bill 148 provides employees with rights they didn’t have before, and means that the burden of proof is on the employer and management to respond appropriately.

2. Adding medical marijuana to a group plan is not obligatory, but could potentially save employers money.

Insurers and employers were initially concerned that adding coverage for medical marijuana will increase the cost of health plans. However, they found that such coverage actually replaces the use of similar or higher-cost prescription drugs, so this does not raise the cost of the plan.

Medical marijuana is slowly being added as optional coverage to group benefit plans by the big insurers. In January, 2018, Sunlife Financial announced that it was offering limited coverage (up to $6,000 a person/year) for five specific conditions and symptoms.

To read the full article please click here.

Want to learn more about your healthcare solutions? Contact me for a complimentary 30-minute consultation.

Aviva Abraham is a group benefits and insurance advisor at Creative Planning. She has been providing healthcare solutions for self-employed and business owners since 2010. 

Planning Your Summer Vacation Without Travel Insurance?

The 5 Costliest Medical Emergency Claims to Be Aware of

A few weeks ago, my nephew Nathan, his wife and five-year-old son Sean, came to visit me from Baltimore, MD. I always recommend to family that they take out travel insurance before going on vacation, but somehow Nathan got busy and forgot to take care of this detail. On the last day of their visit, Sean fell down my stairs and blacked out for a minute. We called the ambulance and they went to Sick Kids to get him checked out. Thank G-d everything was ok, but this little trip cost Nathan over $800!


Have You Secured Proper Travel Insurance for Your Vacation?

Even when you do the best planning for everything to go smoothly, accidents and emergencies happen. It’s easier now to get travel coverage especially if you’re young and have no health issues as most credit card companies and airlines provide coverage. However, if you have any health issues or you’re above age 60, it’s even more important to make sure you have comprehensive travel coverage that will properly protect you while you’re away.
According to TuGo Emergency Medical Insurance Providers, the top 5 costliest emergency medical claims their travelers made in the last year were:

1. Abdominal Pain
2. Heart Attack
3. Respiratory Failure
4. Car accident
5. Pneumonia

( See chart below for more details on age of travelers and total cost of medical expenses)

Three important things to note:
Ages – Younger Canadians need protection too! Almost half of these large claims came from those under age 60.

Costs – Emergency medical costs are rising each year, the ones below ranged from $340,000 to over $2,000,000!

Hospital Stay – The average hospital stay is 10 days and this is extremely costly when you’re abroad.

Make sure this summer, you travel with the peace of mind that you and your family are properly protected while on vacation!

The 5 Costliest Medical Emergency Claims


5 costliest medical emergencies (courtesy


Do you have questions about travel, healthcare, and insurance coverage? Contact me for a complimentary 30-minute consultation.

Aviva Abraham is a group benefits and insurance advisor at Creative Planning. She has been providing healthcare solutions for self-employed and business owners since 2010.

Taxes Done? Next Step!

Ten Key Documents You Need to Organize For your Family



Last year my 57-year-old neighbor died after a long battle with cancer. He left his wife, 5 kids, and 2 grandchildren. The last year of his life was spent visiting doctors and undergoing experimental treatments. Though this was a difficult time for all, it gave him some time to put his finances in order.

One action my neighbour took was to make sure his family knew exactly what his wishes were and where all of his important financial documents were located. He did this so that his family wouldn’t have to deal with a financial mess when he was gone. His family was devastated emotionally when he died, but financially, they were fine, because he took the time to make sure they would be.

Our lives today are busy and complicated, from paperwork to passwords. When someone gets sick or dies – especially when it is unexpected, not only do we have to deal with the emotional impact, we also have to worry about the practical – accessing financial and medical information, tax filings, as well as changing or closing accounts.

Now that you have just gathered all your tax statements, income and assets for your accountant, it’s the best time to take it one step further: make a special file with 10 Key Documents – paper or digital- and keep a copy with two people you trust.

If you love your family and friends, take the time to organize your affairs!

You can download the list of 10 Key Documents here.

Do you have questions about life and health insurance? Need a review of your existing insurance coverage? Contact me for a complimentary 30-minute consultation.

Aviva Abraham is a group benefits and insurance advisor at Creative Planning. She has been providing healthcare solutions for self-employed and business owners since 2010.

Are Your Workplace Benefits Taxable?

Are Your Workplace Benefits Taxable?



As we approach our April tax deadline each year I often get asked which workplace benefits are taxable and which are not.

If your T4 slip shows employment income (Box 14) higher than the wages you earned for the year, you received taxable benefits from your employer and you must pay the taxes on those amounts.

But how do you know what is taxed and what isn’t?

Here is how the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) treats nine  types of employee benefits for tax purposes:


1. Group health and dental premiums

Employer-paid premiums for group health insurance are NOT taxable benefits, an extremely valuable benefit worth thousands of dollars a year. The Liberal government last year discussed making this a taxable benefit but thankfully they did not!


2. Group life insurance premiums

Employer-paid premiums for group life insurance, dependent life insurance, accident insurance and critical illness insurance ARE taxable benefits and the amounts paid on your behalf need to be added to your taxable income.


3. Group short or long-term disability

If your employer deducts these premiums from your paycheck then it is NOT taxable. I always recommend to clients that their short-term disability (STD) or long-term disability (LTD) premiums be deducted from employees’ pay. If they are not, then any disability benefits you may collect in future will be taxable. In most cases, a few dollars paid today while earning a full income is a lot easier to handle than getting taxed on a reduced income during disability. Check how your disability premiums are being reported.


4. Pension & Group Registered Retirement Savings Plans

Your employer’s contributions to a registered pension plan on your behalf are NOT taxable. However, employer contributions to or matching group RRSP contributions ARE taxable. Your employer may deposit the full amount into your RRSP account without any withholding tax being deducted, as long as you have contribution room. Be aware: your employer’s contribution to your pension reduces your RRSP contribution room the following year, via the “pension adjustment” that is reported on your T4.


5. Non-group insurance plans

Any non-group insurance plans (i.e. for an individual employee or an executive) paid by your employer are a taxable benefit. Whether it is a sickness, accident insurance, disability insurance, or a health and wellness program with a private facility. These annual fees AREtaxable.



6. Cellphone

If your company provides employees with smartphones plus a voice and data plan, the CRA will generally NOT consider this a taxable benefit, as long as the cost of the cell phone plan is reasonable and you do not incur additional costs for personal use (e.g., additional long-distance charges) beyond the basic fee for the plan.


7. Equipment when working from home

Working at home whether it is full or part-time are now common in many industries. Computer equipment or other supplies provided by your employer to enable you to do your job are NOT taxable benefits. Note: If you must provide your own office space or equipment, you may be able to deduct all or part of these expenses for tax purposes, ask your accountant if and how you can claim those amounts at tax time.


8. Tuition reimbursement

Tuition paid for you as an employee is NOT a taxable benefit if you require the training to progress in your job. If your company gives your son or daughter a bursary or scholarship, neither you nor your child is required to pay taxes on these amounts.


9. Gifts and awards

If your employer gives non-cash gifts or awards worth <$500 for outstanding service or for milestones such as a wedding or the birth of a child, it is NOT a taxable benefit. Non-cash awards for long service worth < $500 are also not considered taxable benefits after working there for at least five years (you are not eligible for such an award more often than every five years). However, incentive and performance bonuses ARE included in your taxable income.


As always, it is a good idea to sit down and discuss any tax-related issues with your accountant. You can use this list to help you ask the right questions as you head into tax season.

Want a complimentary assessment of your insurance coverage and benefits?  Contact me for a complimentary 30-minute consultation.


Aviva Abraham is a group benefits and insurance advisor at Creative Planning. She has been providing healthcare solutions for self-employed and business owners since 2010. 

Know Anyone Dealing With A Health Crisis?

How to talk to someone who is sick or dying

My mother-in-law Esther was diagnosed with lung cancer 20 years ago. She didn’t tell anyone aside from the immediate family; her best friends had no idea she was sick until two months before she died. Why? She didn’t want to have to answer questions, give updates or deal with comments. She just wanted to focus on getting better.

There are times in our lives when we’re dealing with issues – personal, medical, or financial – that we simply can’t handle all the questions and comments that well-meaning people feel the need to express. So what can we do about them?

Follow The Ring Theory…

The Ring Theory
To help others deal with well-meaning friends and family during a crisis, Susan Silk developed The Ring Theory (read the full story here). It’s quite simple:

  • Draw a small circle in the center of a piece of paper- that will be the centre ring. Put the name of the person dealing with the crisis in that circle.
  • Draw a slightly larger circle around the first circle- put the name of the person next closest to the trauma in that circle (could be a spouse/child/sibling/etc.).
  • Draw several larger outer rings- repeat the above process, putting the next closest person to the trauma.



When you’re done, you have what Susan called the “kvetching order”.
Note: Kvetching is a Yiddish word meaning to complain constantly.

The person in the center ring can say anything to anyone. They can kvetch, complain, cry or swear; that’s their right for having to deal with the trauma.

Everyone else named in one of the rings can say these things as well, but only to those in a ring larger than theirs!

This is so simple and protects those closest to the issue from having to deal with the unnecessary.

Know anyone dealing with a health crisis? Share this post with them. They will thank you!

Have questions about finding the right life and health insurance? Need a review of your existing insurance coverage? Contact me today for your complimentary 30-minute Insurance Consultation.

Aviva Abraham is a group benefits and insurance advisor at Creative Planning. She has been providing healthcare solutions for self employed and business owners since 2010. 

Why Did Thousands of Canadians Go to the US for Care Last Year?

Doctor Waiting

Anastasie Hacault, a 32-year-old Manitoba woman, has brain cancer. Read Anastasie’s story here.

In 2017, Anastasie launched a fundraising campaign to pay for NeuroBlate laser-based surgery to fight her brain cancer. Her surgery is projected to cost about $150,000 dollars performed in a U.S hospital. The irony of this situation is that this innovative surgery was developed in Canada but it isn’t performed here. (Read the full story).

Did you know that…

  • According to a Huffington Post article, for procedures available in Canada, long wait times (average 10.6 weeks) cost Canadians $1.7 billion in lost wages and time last year?
  • Physicians reported that wait times are three times longer than what they consider “clinically reasonable”?
  • The Financial Post recently reported that Canada ranked last in “best health care” out of 11 countries, mainly due to the long wait times we have to endure?

So it’s no surprise that an estimated 63,000 Canadians traveled abroad last year for their non-urgent medical care – An increase of nearly 40% more than the previous year.

What procedures did they travel abroad for?

  • General surgery
  • Urology
  • Colonoscopy
  • Angiography

What does this say about our healthcare system?

There’s been great dissatisfaction with the length of time it takes to get non-urgent care. People who can afford to pay for their care and don’t want to be subjected to long wait times find alternatives in the US and abroad. Others are subjected to these long wait times and sometimes to the expense of their recovery.

Is there an option for average income earners to get the best health care when they need it?

Fortunately, Yes. Canadians DO have an option to get worldwide medical care in a timely manner from the best medical specialists around the world.

Considering the long wait times and the huge cost to your finances and your business if you’re self-employed, it’s worth checking out if you can qualify for this Global Healthcare option.

Want to find out more about worldwide medical care and other healthcare options available to you? Contact me for a complimentary 30-minute consultation.

Aviva Abraham is a group benefits and insurance advisor at Creative Planning. She has been providing healthcare solutions for self-employed and business owners since 2010. 

What Happens When Marijuana Becomes Legal in 2018?

Last year, Canada set in motion plans to legalize marijuana use by July 1, 2018. Ontario is the first province to announce its plans to sell and distribute recreational marijuana once it becomes legal. (Note: medical marijuana has been legal since 2015).

The proposed strategy would be to regulate marijuana providers and supervise quality control of the supply chain – similar to the regulation and control of alcohol and tobacco use.

So what does this mean for Canadians? Some of the most common questions I’m hearing are:

1. “Will I be able to purchase marijuana anywhere?”

No! Distribution and sale will only be legal if purchased through approved providers – exactly who would be able to sell marijuana in Canada is still being determined. So far, Ontario has announced plans to open 80 stand-alone stores by July 1, 2019.

2. “Can I grow or produce my own marijuana?”

No! It will still be illegal to:

  • Possess or distribute a budding or flowering plant
  • Possess or distribute more than 4 non-budding plants
  • Possessing more than 30 dried grams in public

3. “Once people buy marijuana, where can they smoke it?”
Unlike regular cigarettes and cigars, consuming the drug will only be allowed in private residences. It will be prohibited in public spaces, cars or workplaces; users won’t be able to smoke in a park, or at their desk at work.

4. “What if I observe someone getting high at work?”

The government is asking employers across Canada to implement and/or update their workplace policies.  Recreational use of marijuana would be dealt in a similar manner to that of someone who comes to work drunk or behaves incorrectly in the work environment. In the event an employee is unclear on how to handle a situation at work, it’s important that they’re able to discuss this with their employer as soon as possible.

5. “What about employees who use marijuana for medical purposes?” 

The government is now requiring all employers to establish workplace policies to protect employers and employees. Medical marijuana laws are different than those for recreational users since it is necessary for health reasons, I will cover this issue in a future post.

Want to find out more about marijuana in the workplace and other healthcare issues?  Contact me for a complimentary 30-minute consultation.

To learn more about the cannabis industry, check out Marcus Lemonis’ documentary on CNBC as he unfolds why cannabis production is booming across North America.



Aviva Abraham is a group benefits and insurance advisor at Creative Planning. She has been providing healthcare solutions for self employed and business owners since 2010. 

Know Anyone Getting Divorced?

3 Questions Commonly Asked About Insurance And Divorce

It’s estimated that 48% of marriages will end in divorce. It’s a stressful and difficult time, even if the divorce is amicable. There are many details to sort through and agree upon, including insurance coverage.

Here are 3 questions people always ask me about insurance coverage during and after divorce:

  1. How can I provide insurance for spousal and/or child support if I have health issues? It’s possible in many cases to get insurance coverage, depending what your health issues are and how long ago you were diagnosed. There are insurers who provide coverage though it’ll be at slightly higher than standard rates.
  1. Can I use an existing policy to cover my support obligation? Just name your ex- partner or child as irrevocable beneficiary for some or all of the policy until your obligation is over, no need to hassle about getting a new policy.
  1. What is the cheapest way to get both parties covered to protect the children? A popular, and less expensive option today is to take a joint and first to die policy, which means there is one policy, and only one payout (which is why it is cheaper), on whomever dies first.

And here’s a question many separating couples don’t consider:

How much will it cost to get new health insurance? 

Too often I hear about women losing their ex-husband’s group coverage, and had no idea how expensive it would be to get coverage on their own. Some don’t even qualify for plans similar to what they used to have due to health challenges. This issue needs to be addressed during the divorce process.


Thinking about splitting up? Need advice before making a move?

Here are 2 trusted advisors who can help:

Bev LewisPositive Solution Mediation Services
Bev helps couples and families going through divorce by providing mediation services. Her clients leave with a legal separation agreement in a fraction of the time and cost of going through lawyers and the courts.

Michael ShusterShuster Real Estate Group
Michael is the first and currently the only Divorce Real Estate Broker in Canada, specializing in all the details one needs to know when selling a home due to separation and divorce.


Know anyone going through divorce? Share this post with them.

Have questions about finding the right life and health insurance? Need a review of your existing insurance coverage? Contact me today for your complimentary 30 minute consultation.

Aviva Abraham is a group benefits and insurance advisor at Creative Planning. She has been providing healthcare solutions for self employed and business owners since 2010. 

Rethinking the War on Cancer

In the last 20 years, we’ve seen great advances in both cancer screening and diagnoses, which has led to more aggressive treatments for cancer patients.
But have we actually made any real progress in the War on Cancer? 

Recently, the medical community has started questioning these aggressive treatments and their effectiveness in our ongoing battle with this devastating disease. Why? They’ve found that cancer survival rates have increased, but very minimally, and for some cancers, not at all.

Read the article from the National Post here

Although we’ve made progress, the facts are:

  • Overall survival rates are at 60%, in the 1970s it was at 50%, only a 10% improvement in 40 years.
  • Experts are estimating new diagnoses will increase 40% by 2030.
  • Fewer than half new cancer drugs available today prolong survival by more than a few months compared to older drugs.

So we must ask ourselves if it’s time to rethink this War on Cancer.

Thyroid Cancer

Last year, the World Health Agency said that they believe 1/2 million people in a dozen countries including Canada have been overdiagnosed with thyroid cancer in the last ten years! To date, they’ve not found a way to undeniably distinguish between a low-risk lesion from one that will grow and spread so they’ve been treating everything they find. As soon as patients learn that they have a tumour, they’re anxious to have it removed immediately and undergo treatment. It’s difficult to convince patients that doing more is not necessarily helpful, and could be harmful: Chemo and radiation treatments can damage the heart, brain, and lungs.

Breast Cancer
When doctors began detecting ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), they thought aggressive treatment would prevent invasive cancer, but it hasn’t; breast cancer rates have not fallen. Some doctors are now suggesting that women be given time to weigh their options, instead of treating immediately.

Prostate cancer
Doctors are now recommending active surveillance instead of aggressive surgery and treatment. A few years ago, Dr. Klotz, a Toronto oncologist, and order of Canada recipient advanced this approach with prostate and today, this is the normal course of treatment used in low-risk cases.

This is a highly emotional and sensitive topic, but one that’s worth addressing. There’s not enough conclusive evidence as the medical community continues to monitor and study the situation but we have enough information to cause concern about our current approach.

What do you think?
Do you believe aggressive treatment is the only answer, or would you consider active monitoring if you or a loved one was diagnosed with cancer?

Want to learn more about your healthcare solutions? Contact me for a complimentary 30-minute consultation.

Aviva Abraham is a group benefits and insurance advisor at Creative Planning. She has been providing healthcare solutions for self-employed and business owners since 2010. 


Money in the bank

5 Pitfalls of Bank Mortgage Insurance


Cory’s story

Susan and Cory bought their first home in Vaughan in 2012; they were excited and a bit overwhelmed. There were so many decisions to make, so when their bank offered them mortgage insurance, they immediately accepted it. What they didn’t know was that it protected the bank more than it protected them. When Cory got sick with cancer a year later, they found out that they were in fact not covered – the bank discovered that Cory forgot to disclose an illness from ten years ago and their claim was denied. (Read what Toronto Star’s Ellen Roseman wrote about mortgage insurance here).

Why shouldn’t you buy mortgage insurance from your bank?

Although mortgage insurance is easy and convenient to obtain from your bank, it is to your advantage to  apply for individually owned term life insurance.

Here are 5 reasons why not to use your bank for mortgage insurance, and how term insurance protects your family in ways your bank cannot:

#1 Bank mortgage insurance protects the bank, not your family.
The money is paid out to your bank, not your family. Term life insurance gets paid directly to your family to use as they need.


#2 Bank mortgage insurance coverage declines as your mortgage balance is paid down.
You continue to pay the same premiums even though your actual coverage is reduced each year. Term life coverage remains the same throughout.


#3 Bank insurance rates are higher than term insurance rates.
Since they don’t do a full medical assessment to determine your health and risk of dying, you pay significantly more than if you would purchase an individual policy.


#4 Banks only do medical underwriting at claim time, not at the time of application.
Should the bank discover an issue, as in Cory’s case, they can deny your claim. Getting medically underwritten for individual term insurance avoids that problem.


#5 Bank mortgage insurance is non-transferable when you move.
When you move houses or lenders, you must take new mortgage insurance each time; with term insurance, you can keep your coverage no matter how many times you move.



Have questions about your mortgage or other insurance? Want to find out how you can save money on your insurance costs? Contact me for a complimentary 30-minute consultation.

Aviva Abraham is a group benefits and insurance advisor at Creative Planning. She has been providing healthcare solutions for self-employed and business owners since 2010.