July 30, 2015
How to Think About Marijuana and Work
The short answer is: Just say no -- in a zero-tolerance policy, because safety must be paramount even as states legalize recreational marijuana.
With a flip of the calendar, on July 1, Oregon became the fourth state in which recreational marijuana use became legal. For many Oregon employers, this status change from illegal to legal wasn’t a big deal. Medical marijuana is already legal in 24 states, including the Beaver State, and possessing less than an ounce was decriminalized in Oregon 40 years ago.
Recreational marijuana is just a new twist on an old story. All it really means is you can’t go to jail (or be fined) for smoking pot recreationally.
However, this “non-event” has made risk managers ponder the ramifications of recreational use, especially for their employees who work in the manufacturing industry. Manufacturers have strict policies to ensure a safe work environment. It goes without saying that people who are under the influence at work in a manufacturing or an industrial setting are far more likely to be injured on the job.
Being stoned at work should be treated no differently than being under the influence of alcohol or prescription medication. You certainly can’t show up drunk for work.
The employer is responsible for that employee as soon as he walks on to the job. Any drug use that affects an employee’s ability to perform the job should be a genuine concern for the employer.
The difficulty for employers is that there is no scientific method to determine a marijuana intoxication level, unlike a blood-alcohol level. Until there is definitive scientific evidence, employers are being advised to err on side of safety and forbid an employee to be under the influence of marijuana.
To do that, the employer needs a crystal-clear, zero-tolerance policy. Unless the employer has been living in a cave the past 50 years, it already has such a policy. But it should be updated to specifically address marijuana use, both on the job and recreationally, because it could affect the employee’s job performance.
It is predicted that in 2016 – the third election cycle in which marijuana legalization measures will be on ballots across the country – as many as seven more states could allow recreational use of marijuana. As each state approves the recreational use of marijuana, there looms in the background the knowledge, that under federal law, its use remains illegal.
Whether that will eventually force the feds to take a stand remains to be seen. Right now, the feds have just rolled over to let you scratch their belly.
But as each state joins the ranks of approving pot use recreationally, what was a minor irritant to the feds could grow too large for them to ignore.
The bottom line is that a stoned CPA might drop a number or two, but a stoned assembly line worker might drop a few fingers. It doesn’t matter if the cause is pot, alcohol or prescription medication. Smoke cannabis at work – or show up stoned – and you’ll be disciplined. It’s not about a worker’s rights; it’s about workplace safety.