How Employers Should Deal With Cannabis Use
Support and use of cannabis in the United States is at an all-time high. More states than ever have legalized cannabis in one way or another, and it’s become commonplace for patients to turn to the plant for wellness and as treatment for a long list of ailments from glaucoma to chronic pain.
Cannabis is now mainstream, although this poses a problem for employers. Not all businesses are in favor of having employees use cannabis, even if it’s outside office hours. This leaves them at a quandary with how to deal with cannabis users in the workplace. On the other hand, employees who feel that they are treated unfairly because they use cannabis as medicine, may turn to legal help. This makes it an extremely delicate issue.
For employers, no matter how you feel about cannabis, there are certain rules that everyone in the organization must ascribe to when it comes to cannabis use. A single mistake can land you in court. To protect your business, here are some tips to help you navigate this situation:
- Familiarize yourself with state policies about cannabis use. This can help you create a framework for drug use that won’t forbid employees from using cannabis outside of work hours. If your cannabis use policy is too strict, you may end up losing some of your best team members to other companies. Even if cannabis is considered a Schedule 1 drug, it is widely used in the USA and around the world as medicine, while groups continue to work and lobby for legalization on the federal level. Until it’s federally legal, having the right policy framework in place can prevent you from being the subject of an employee lawsuit whether the case is strong or not.
- When employees ask if they are allowed to use prescription cannabis for their ailments, answer properly and avoid the temptation of putting down the drug. Even worse, avoid succumbing to stereotypes and addressing cannabis users as stoners, or other similar demeaning phrases and terms. The correct way to address this would be to ask the employee how else they can be accommodated, to show that you respect their privacy on medical issues. Employers have a legitimate right to make sure that medications taken by employees are used responsibly and won’t affect their work performance.
- It’s logical for employers to want to establish a zero-tolerance policy for drug use, including cannabis, while at work. This will prevent employees from showing up high, without being discriminatory or biased on your part. However, if you are in a state that requires employers to accommodate medical cannabis use, you are forbidden from firing employees who have an MMJ card if they test positive for the drug. A zero-tolerance policy will prevent use during work hours but it gives employers no right to judge employees based on what they do after work.
- It would be a mistake to ban cannabis use completely, even though this seems like the easiest route from an employer’s perspective. This can strain relationships with your employees, as well as with the law. Employers should prioritize regulating behavior by adjusting their drug screening guidelines to accommodate medical cannabis use. There is also the option of excluding cannabis for random drug testing. If your industry is safety-sensitive since it requires employees to operate heavy machinery, it would definitely be the most logical choice to strictly prohibit working under the influence of cannabis, just as it would be with alcohol.
- Employers have the right to demand that all employees can operate at their maximum capacity and not while stoned. When creating policies for cannabis use during lunch and break hours, employers can follow existing policies for alcohol use. It’s not uncommon for employees (especially in states where cannabis is legal) to come clean about their symptoms and ask their superiors if they can step outside the building, medicate, and return to work. In some cases, employers will fire them on the spot, but this can land you in a lawsuit. The best way to handle this situation would be to tell the employee that they are prohibited from using cannabis at work, but you can tell them that you will accommodate their condition but send them home and come back tomorrow, since they cannot be allowed to work under the influence.
How do you handle cannabis issues at work?
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