By Lee Allphin, Employer Advantage Founder and Chairman of the Board
As part of Employer Advantage’s comprehensive suite of HR management and outsourcing services (HR, Payroll, Health & Benefits, Safety, and more), we take on the burden of our clients’ employee administration and compliance responsibilities. Please contact us if you would like assistance: Info@EmployerAdvantage.com | 877.476.9520
The legalization of medical marijuana has provided much-needed relief to many who suffer from debilitating neurological and mental health conditions. But unlike many prescriptions or even over-the-counter medications, a doctor’s authorization for a medical card for the legal use of cannabis is not accompanied with the standard warning…“May cause drowsiness and dizziness; do not operate heavy machinery while taking this medication.”
Despite its medical benefits, marijuana can have an impact on workplace safety and productivity. And with the recent legalization of recreational marijuana in many states, the dangers are often underappreciated by employers and employees alike.
Complicating matters further, a person using marijuana where it is legal won’t face criminal charges if the drug is used in compliance with state statutes. In the absence of important guidance about medical marijuana in the workplace, employers are left to navigate the balance between employee healthcare needs and workplace safety.
Here is a brief checklist of considerations and actions employers can take to better protect their employees and business:
Carefully Weigh All Safety Issues
Safety issues are often a top concern regarding medical marijuana use in the workplace and are a valid basis for banning cannabis for certain vocations.
Marijuana use has been linked to an increase in job accidents and injuries, which employees may not be aware of. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that the short-term effects of marijuana include impaired body movement, difficulty with thinking and problem-solving, memory problems, and an altered sense of time.
The use of marijuana by employees in the transportation sector can be especially damaging. The drug impairs attentiveness, motor coordination, and reaction time and impacts the perception of time and speed. Studies from the National Institute on Drug Abuse have found that marijuana negatively impacts driving performance. Other research indicates acute use of the drug increases the risk of crashes and fatal collisions.
- Determine if an employee operates any machinery or motor vehicles or any equipment that could be dangerous to the operator or those around them.
- State laws legalizing marijuana use do not require an employer to compromise workplace safety. Employers are allowed to ban the drug at work, and even terminate employees violating established policy.
Establish a Clear and Strong Medical Marijuana Policy
Any policy created should not be generic; it should indicate your company’s purpose for the policy and any federal requirements that impact the way it is structured. In addition, state drug testing and medical marijuana laws need to be considered.
Coordinate the policy with other substance abuse considerations. A policy might indicate that workers are not to use, possess, or be under the influence of controlled substances, including medical marijuana, while at work. To date, courts have ruled employers may act under their substance abuse policy if an employee tests positive for marijuana, even if the drug is being used for medical purposes away from the workplace under state law.
Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, employers do not need to consider its use as an accommodation under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. However, some newer medical marijuana laws offer additional employee protections, and these laws have not yet been tested in court.
Above all else, ensure your business complies with employee protection laws: Be familiar with all protections including discrimination, drug testing, and accommodation provisions. Employers should make sure their policy reflects additional steps that may need to be taken to meet their obligation to consider employee rights, while also guarding workplace safety.
Educate All Workers
Once the policy has been created, make it clear to employees that they are prohibited from being impaired by marijuana or other substances. Ensure that employees and supervisors understand that “legal” under state law does not protect them from termination if breaking policy.
Be sure to educate your workforce regarding the dangers of being under the influence of substances while working. A better understanding of the many dangers will enable employees to better understand that the policy is not created to be an infringement on their healthcare needs; rather, it is there to provide a safe working environment for all.
In summary, there is no substitute for the time, money and lives that may be saved by businesses that employ a solid workplace safety policy. Employer Advantage’s Safety and HR professionals are guiding our clients in establishing a Medical Marijuana policy that can be added to important safety guidelines already in place.
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A New Path to HR Bliss – Trusted for more than 30 years, Employer Advantage frees you from the administrative and compliance burdens of having employees so you can focus on your business success. Versatile enough for companies of all sizes, our unique service combines comprehensive management of your employee administration and compliance with the latest software solutions, tailored to meet your individual needs and company culture. Our full-service management of Human Resources, payroll, health and benefits, workplace safety, and more enhance your profitability while reducing the costs and risks associated with employment law compliance. We provide your employees with top-notch assistance and benefits that help you increase productivity, save time and money, and attract and retain a talented workforce. And for small and mid-sized businesses, we bring you economy of scale with access to Fortune-500-level benefits, specialty assistance, and savings that would not be possible to attain on your own. Headquartered in the Midwest and serving more than 500 companies and 10,000 worksite employees throughout the country, Employer Advantage is an IRS-Certified Professional Employer Organization (PEO) (CPEO). Experienced, certified, and trusted. www.EmployerAdvantage.com