The legalization of marijuana promises to be a big challenge for businesses. This is especially true for landscape, tree care and other service companies that rely on young technicians driving service vehicles with trailers to jobsites. The challenge grows even larger when employees operate power equipment, which can maim or kill when used carelessly or inattentively — or by an impaired employee.
Every employer in the green services industry realizes they must do everything they can to maintain productivity in today’s competitive environment while also ensuring workplace safety and protecting workers’ rights. When it comes to marijuana in the workplace, these rights may vary from state to state.
Confusing? Issues surrounding employee marijuana usage, drug testing and workers’ rights can quickly get tangled into an expensive legal issue for employers depending in which state a company operates. And this is even in the face of the federal government’s Controlled Substance Act, which makes marijuana possession, manufacture, distribution and sale a criminal act.
So far, 28 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, with nine states and Washington, D.C., decriminalizing recreational use of the drug. New Jersey and several other states are expected to increase those numbers in 2018.
Public opinion in recent years has been swinging in favor of relaxation of marijuana laws, especially for medical use. Studies have shown two active ingredients in marijuana – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is the active ingredient that can greatly relieve chronic pain to patients suffering from a wide range of illnesses, as well as for individuals with terminal conditions. Marijuana may, in fact, be the only substance that can help them manage their pain, say cannabis proponents.
Decriminalizing its recreational use seems to be driven by two factors – allowing states to more tightly control its cultivation and distribution (taxes), and easing the burden on the legal and judicial system given the large numbers of users being arrested and jailed, many of them for possession of small amounts of cannabis.
All this is in spite of studies confirming that marijuana use has a negative effect on reasoning and concentration, which obviously is not something that you want from an employee working a chain saw or brush chipper.
This, of course, leads to questions, such as: Should you, as a green services company owner, tolerate the employment of a marijuana user, even a productive, valuable worker that occasionally uses cannabis off the job in their own time?
How about an employee with a doctor’s prescription, perhaps to alleviate chronic back pain or to combat nausea associated with cancer or other illness? Would you feel comfortable with this individual working in a non-safety-sensitive job within your company … that is provided they restrict the use to off-duty hours and they keep you informed of any changes in dosage or frequency of use?
Given this new reality of legalized marijuana and the challenges it brings with it in terms of attracting, hiring and retaining employees, it might be a good time to revisit your drug-testing program and whether it includes (or should include) pre-employment, post-accident and for-cause testing.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration: “Drug testing policies should limit post-incident testing to situations in which drug use is likely to have contributed to the incident and for which the drug test can accurately identify impairment caused by drug use.” How about random testing of employees? Is that permitted in your state?
Also, are you clearly communicating your company’s rules in regard to drug use (including marijuana) to your employees? This should be a written policy that employees must read and consent to as a condition of employment. Are you informing them about when and how drug testing can occur?
How about your managers and supervisors? Have they been trained to be on the lookout for signs of employee impairment?
The bottom line is that while the public in many states now accepts legal marijuana, that doesn’t change your responsibility as a business owner to do all that you can to provide all of your employees with a safe, drug-free workplace.