Cannabis in the Workplace – It’s Decision-Making Time

With cannabis (“pot”) having been decriminalized or legalized in more than 30 states—in many cases for recreational, personal use—employers are struggling with how to approach the issue. Cannabis has been touted as a medicinal aid for many conditions, from PTSD to Crohn’s disease, nausea, cancer, multiple sclerosis and more. Yet, cannabis can alter worker reaction times and cause other physical changes that could put the worker, the firm, and its customers at risk. In certain industries, from homecare to construction, cannabis use in the workplace can be especially risky.

So far, cannabis has not been fully decriminalized in Georgia, but at the time this article was written, a “medical marijuana” bill was making its way through the Georgia legislature.  For employers, the question becomes, how would such a bill impact employers and their rights to a safe workplace?

Just Say No.

Whether cannabis is legal in a state or not, employers retain the right to “Just Say No,” but with caveats. Employers in the U.S. have the latitude to set a variety of workplace rules and standards, as long as they’re not discriminatory. That includes firing an employee for using cannabis at work, even in states where it’s legal recreationally.

Nevertheless, if cannabis becomes legal in Georgia for medicinal purposes and it is prescribed to a worker by a doctor, it is likely that the employer will not be able to prohibit its use on the job. Rather, the company would need to make accommodation for the medical usage—perhaps by adjusting the worker’s job duties if impairment might be a problem—just as it would for any other legally protected condition.

If cannabis becomes legal for recreational use, employers can treat it as they would alcohol. They can prohibit it on the job or at an off-work interval where it could still be detectable in a worker’s bloodstream on the job. In the case of cannabis, that’s a period much longer than traces of alcohol remain.

No matter what approach a company takes, leadership should ensure policy language is clear and outlines exactly what’s expected during working hours, including impairment caused by off-work use. Policies should also address whether recreational cannabis–which now includes flowers, edibles, topicals, and concentrates–is acceptable at company functions where alcohol is being consumed.

With the tight labor market, some firms are becoming creative with their rules regarding cannabis, but such an approach is optional based on management’s preferences:

  • Rather than prohibit cannabis altogether, some firms test workers before they go on assignments where cannabis in the system would be unwise.
  • Some companies are relaxing their drug policies to attract more workers. Even the Atlanta Police Department recently adjusted its policies, no longer asking recruits about prior drug use as long as they commit not to use drugs after hire.

As with all decisions that potentially put a company in jeopardy, Marathon recommends leadership consult with their legal counsel. If an impaired employee causes an accident that harms himself or others, and their impairment was encouraged by the company through lax enforcement, the business could also be at risk.