Marijuana in the Workplace: An HR Conundrum?

With more and more states now permitting medical marijuana use, it can be challenging for human resource managers to adjust their organizational policies. HR departments must examine what their policies are in regards to marijuana, how it affects their employees, and how they meet the requirements of state laws.

How is Marijuana Classified?

In terms of classification, the federal government still considers marijuana to be an illegal drug. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), marijuana fits under the category of being a high potential substance for abuse. When it comes to drug-free workplaces, the federal government still requires that employees test negative for marijuana along with other illegal drugs.

While marijuana is illegal at the federal level, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has generally chosen not to convict those who possess and distribute marijuana in compliance with state laws. Most state marijuana laws are in place to protect an employer’s right to maintain a marijuana-free workplace, and make it difficult for employers to regulate marijuana use by employees.

To make matters more confusing, many users of medical marijuana assume that they classify as prescription drug users. However, since marijuana remains illegal under federal law, medical marijuana lacks the clinical trials and government support that prescription medication receives.

What are the Best Practices for Marijuana in the Workplace?

Creating policies that incorporate the use of marijuana in the workplace is the best thing that human resource managers can do. Since marijuana use inhabits a gray area of the law, employees may believe that if marijuana is legal in their state, they are free to use it without consequence.

Employers must be prepared to devote time and money to train their employees on marijuana use in the workplace, and inform them of changes to the terms of their employment in this realm. Informing employees of the workplace policy, outlining restrictions, and displaying the consequences of policy violations are examples of what can be incorporated in the implementation.

Workplace safety and productivity should also be a top priority for employers since marijuana use can have an enormous impact on safety. Since marijuana is an impairment drug, policies must prohibit marijuana use in the workplace in order to avoid accidents causing injury, damage to assets, lost time, or even death. Employers should not risk anything when it comes to safety in the workplace.

For disability-based accommodation, employment policies are required to include provisions when employees require support due to an addiction or medical necessity. Under human-rights legislation, drug and alcohol addictions are typically considered disabilities. Those suffering from addictions to marijuana must be protected from the discriminatory actions of managers or other co-workers.

Employers should continue to test for marijuana in association with state regulations. In states where medical marijuana users receive protection from workplace discipline, workplace policies should require employees to verify their medical marijuana authorization to a Medical Review Officer.

How Should Employers Write Policies for Medical Marijuana in the Workplace?

Since employers and human resources professionals have little guidance from state courts, creating medical marijuana policies in the workplace remain difficult. Some common guidelines include:

  • Negate marijuana use if your business is funded by the federal government
  • Update handbooks to include zero-tolerance drug-free policies
  • Train supervisors in regards to how to appropriately handle an employee who uses medical marijuana
  • Keep employee’s personal medical information private
  • Be mindful of reports of disability discrimination and harassment for marijuana
  • Standardize reasonable suspicion checklists to formalize policy enforcement, including an employee’s appearance, behavior, motor skills and performance issues and documents the agreed-upon action plan

In order to protect your business from lawsuits, and employees who use medical marijuana from discrimination and harassment, it is wise to think about these factors when deciding how your company will handle medical marijuana. Just like any other workplace policy, medical marijuana policies are dynamic tools that articulate your organisation’s values, culture, systems and processes, and expectations around employee behavior.

A medical marijuana policy requires proper implementation to be effective, which means that staff should be aware of the policy and its implications. Proper training of marijuana medical policies should be a mandatory part of the on-boarding process, with copies available in easy and accessible locations.

Streamlining Human Resource Policies with Paypro

At Paypro, our team has seen it all. With over 27 years of operational experience, we want to sit with you, understand your business, and come up with custom integrations and automations that will help you adapt your business to today’s changing landscape. Our top priority is to help you make your business compliant, safe and more successful.

About The Author

Ingrid Principe

Ingrid is the Content Marketing Manager at Paypro, managing both inbound and outbound marketing initiatives for the company. She has 15+ years’ of extensive marketing communications experience, leveraging brand awareness and strategic partnerships to increase sales revenue for a diverse group of B2B brands.

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