(“Originally published on SIA Staffing Stream, May 19, 2014.”)
Recently, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson was ignominiously barred from flying to the United States – allegedly over revelations about her occasional use of cocaine and marijuana. Simultaneously, America has been witnessing a concerted move to decriminalize the use of marijuana. Scientific American and many others have gone on record to state that marijuana does not rank very high on addiction, with 9 percent becoming addicted and dependent; when compared to substances like nicotine (32 percent), cocaine (23 percent) and even alcohol (15 percent). Many are expressing concern for the 650,000 youngsters earning themselves criminal records each year over the possession of small quantities of the illegal drug.
The use of marijuana for medical reasons is now legal in 20 states across America. Colorado and Washington (possibly to be followed by New Jersey and 15 other states) have also made it legal for recreation purposes. While issues like tax revenue, individual freedom and the acceptability of this move are beyond the purview of this blog, the implications of these developments for workplaces makes it well worth a discussion.
Effects of Marijuana
While there is a great deal of contradictory scientific research, most agree that using marijuana affects a person based on the amount imbibed and the person’s own mood, personality and physical attributes (like weight). It has been shown to adversely affect the user’s alertness, reaction time, short-term memory, thinking abilities, concentration, sensory perception, balance and coordination, and ability to perform complex tasks. These effects can last anywhere from two to six hours, which makes it a matter of concern for any employer that wishes to avoid liability and maintain productivity.
For employers, the current status of the legalization of marijuana has muddied the waters, and they are getting muddier! When taking a position on marijuana use, companies must factors in federal laws that consider marijuana to be an illegal substance and the varying state laws that allow it. Court cases are building, and precedents are emerging. Most decisions are based on the notion that a primary duty of an employer is to ensure the safety of their workers at the workplace. When an individual reports to work, it is the responsibility of the employer to protect against anything that impacts an employee’s ability to do their job or that presents a safety risk. As such, companies can prohibit employees from coming to work under the influence. This position is even specified in the Colorado legislation that legalized marijuana for recreational use.
So if you are working for a company with a professed zero-tolerance drug-free policy, your use of any drug had also better remain at zero, irrespective of the state in which you live. In Colorado, companies that have a zero-tolerance policy were found to have made their screening efforts more stringent, to avoid the risk and liability of having worker safety compromised.
Many employees are unaware that companies in states that have legalized the drug can – and will – enforce zero-tolerance drug-free policies that can result in terminations for violations. Some things that workers and employers should keep in mind:
We encourage all companies to examine and revise their corporate code of business standards and employee policy handbooks to explicitly state how marijuana will be dealt with in the workplace. The policy should take into consideration and explicitly address:
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