By Pam Thornton
The legalization of marijuana across Massachusetts, Connecticut, and now Rhode Island has further increased the complexity of how we manage drug use in our workplaces. Employers are being forced to re-evaluate their position and practices around maintaining a safe and drug-free workplace.
Although employers may need to revise their drug-testing and accommodation policies, no state law requires employers to tolerate on-the-job drug use, intoxication, or impairment. Communication with your employees, a solid workplace drug policy, and enforcement of your practices can go a long way to keeping your workplace drug-free.
The recent mindset of some employees has really surprised many leaders and HR practitioners. Employees have always known that they can’t come to work under the influence of alcohol or any other controlled substance, for that matter, but with the sweeping legalization of recreational marijuana, employees are taking liberties and showing up to work impaired because “it’s now legal.”
It’s important for employers to educate and overcommunicate. Putting it out there, that even though it’s legal, it’s not acceptable to possess or use in the workplace, really needs to be said from the top down, across all functions and in multiple ways. Practically speaking, this means even having conversations to confirm that marijuana isn’t allowed in the workplace smoking area or at the outdoor company picnic, for instance. Clear communication with some specific examples can really help to get everyone on the same page.
Employers are trying to get qualified employees in the door to do the work in this tight labor market and are thinking long and hard about whether or not they really need to drug test for marijuana. They are weighing the upside of drug testing with the multiple requirements varying by state, with the downside being the risk of not being able to attract or retain talented people. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, however, and companies that have these specific requirements still need to adhere to these standards.
Developing and implementing a policy that outlines the specifics of the law required by your state and clearly defines use and possession parameters is critical. Properly training managers to be able to identify the signs of impairment will assist in the applicability and enforcement of the policy and can protect everyone. These are different times that we are living in and complicated at best when it comes to this subject, but the employer still has the right to require a drug-free workplace. The burden of outlining and reinforcing common-sense guidelines is one that the employer will bear, but the advantages are sure to be beneficial in the long run.
Pam Thornton is director of Strategic HR Services at the Employers Assoc. of the Northeast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog; eane.org