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Marijuana in the Workplace: 3 Things Employers Should Know

As marijuana becomes more widely available, marijuana in the workplace becomes a more pressing and confusing issue. Twenty-eight states now allow the use of medical marijuana. Eight allow legal recreational use. These numbers are likely to rise as new laws pass. What does this mean for you as an employer? There are three things you should know.

Marijuana Puts Workers at Risk

As the nation’s attitude toward marijuana relaxes, you may be tempted to do the same. Ignoring marijuana in the workplace seems easier than taking steps to prevent and address it. However ignoring marijuana use can have serious repercussions for employees and employers alike.

Occupational Health & Safety[1] shares, “The drug impairs attentiveness, motor coordination, and reaction time and impacts the perception of time and speed…Use of the drug increases the risk of crashes and fatal collisions.”

Man holding joint

Marijuana can lead to on-the-job accidents, particularly if your employee drives vehicles or operates potentially dangerous equipment.

Even if your employee doesn’t operate machinery, his or her marijuana use impacts the workplace and coworkers. Regular marijuana users are more likely to call in sick or not show up for work. This reduces overall productivity and puts greater strain on coworkers. Even if employees show up, if they are high or struggling with addiction, they will not have the same focus and dedication as other employees. This costs employers and the public at large.

NPR.org[2] explains, “Substance use disorders cost over $420 billion a year in the form of health care costs, lost economic productivity, and cost to the criminal justice system.” Addiction is expensive. Marijuana in the workplace has safety and financial repercussions.

Employers Need to Create Clear Policies

You get to choose how you respond to drug use in the workplace. However you have to make your response fair, consistent, and fully explained. Before issues regarding marijuana arise, make sure you have clear policies in place.

NBC News[3] explains that it doesn’t matter if a state allows marijuana use or not: “Workers still can be booted — or never hired in the first place — for puffing cannabis if anti-pot rules exist in their employers’ HR handbooks…If not using marijuana is in the contract, or in the terms of the job, you can get fired.”

Just as employees can’t come to work drunk even though alcohol is legal, they can’t show up high. Your drug and alcohol policies are still relevant. They take precedence over laws allowing marijuana use. However they must be clearly stated and fairly implemented. Include rules relating to any and all substance use in your employee handbook or manual. Make sure employees read and sign paperwork and policies related to the topic. Work with your HR team or consider hiring a lawyer to create clear rules for the workplace. Create guidelines for how you will respond to use on the job or to failed drug tests. Make sure you follow these guidelines if any situations arise.

Your Employee May Need Help

Worker operating drill press

Before you fire a worker for smoking pot on or off the job, understand that addiction is a disease. It is a common one at that. USA Today[4] reveals, “About 9% of those who experiment with marijuana overall — and nearly 17% of those who use it as teenagers — will become addicted…Up to half of people who smoke marijuana daily become addicted. [In 2012] 2.7 million people over age 12 meet criteria for addiction to marijuana.” As laws change, more people are likely to experiment with marijuana or to use it on a more regularly basis. Make sure companies policies include rules against smoking on the job and also include random drug screenings. This creates accountability and may limit how much or how often individuals feel comfortable smoking. You can help prevent addiction by reducing risk factors such as daily use.

If an employee struggles with addiction, you don’t have to fire him or her. You don’t have to take a negative action. Instead you can play a role in recovery. If an employee seems to be struggling to keep up with personal and professional responsibilities, he or she may need help. Inform employees about any workplace resources such as employee assistance programs (EAPs). EAPs connect workers to mental health resources that can help them overcome issues such as addiction. You can also call treatment programs like Michael’s House to learn more about laws regarding marijuana and other drug use. We can help you connect employees to effective treatment resources. We can help you find resources covered by your insurance provider. Before you fire an employee for addiction, consider supporting his or her recovery. You can regain a good employee and do a good deed instead.


[1] https://ohsonline.com/Articles/2016/02/01/Marijuana-Use-and-Its-Impact-on-Workplace-Safety-and-Productivity.aspx?Page=1. “Marijuana Use and Its Impact on Workplace Safety and Productivity.” Occupational Health & Safety. 1 Feb 2016. Web. 12 Apr 2017.

[2] http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/11/17/502402409/surgeon-general-murthy-wants-america-to-face-up-to-addiction. “Surgeon General Murthy Wants America to Face Up To Addiction.” NPR.org. 17 Nov 2016. Web. 12 Apr 2017.

[3] http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/legal-pot/puff-puff-pink-slip-legal-weed-use-still-carries-job-n153841. “Puff, Puff, Pink Slip: Legal Weed Use Still Carries Job Risk.” NBC News. 13 Jul 2014. Web. 12 Apr 2017.

[4] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/07/27/risks-of-marijuana/10386699/. “Marijuana Poses More Risks Than Many Realize.” USA Today. Web. 30 Jul 2014. 12 Apr 2017.