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January 13, 2015

Drug Testing in the Workplace and Medical Marijuana – The Controversy

MedicalMarijuanaSafety + Health Magazine took an in-depth look last summer at an issue that many safety professionals across the country are facing now that new laws in their states have gone into effect at the top of the year.

With marijuana for medical use becoming widespread as more and more states enact laws allowing for the prescribing of this controlled substance, workplace safety concerns are on many an employer’s mind.

The S+H article points out that, because the federal government is taking a hands-off position, we’re seeing a wide variety of state-level responses. Some court decisions have come down in support of zero-tolerance employer policies and some have sought to “shield [workers with medical marijuana prescriptions] from adverse action by employers based solely on a positive test result.” 

Thankfully, no one is arguing that professional drivers, welders, crane operators, or others who handle dangerous machinery abandon commonsense, safe on-the-job work practices in light of these new regulations. The controversy for employers arises when a worker follows a medical marijuana treatment regime in his or her off-duty hours. What does this mean for an at-will employee whose company policy forbids the use of marijuana?

This question, and similar ones, must be considered by safety professionals and employers, often in conjunction with their legal counsel. And the answer must become an important part of any organization’s overall EH&S plan. Part of the current challenge is the lack of precedents to follow, as this issue is a new one for employee, employer, law enforcement, and healthcare professional alike.

But for all the gray area around the enactment and enforcement of these new laws, one thing remains clear – the expectation of a safe workplace for all employees. Mind-altering substances are just that — they alter our brain chemistry, leading to impeded judgment and slower reaction times, which puts the innocent co-worker as well as the impaired worker in jeopardy.  Employees rely on their employers to make the workplace as safe as possible, and management counts on those same workers to abide by the rules and best practices established to do just that. Workers impaired while on the job, whether through alcohol or prescribed medications including marijuana, simply don’t fit into that equation.

No matter how much changes in the workplaces of 2015, the responsibility for safety on the job is everyone’s obligation. Training, preventative measures, drug-testing policies, and other workplace practices must work in tandem to ensure everyone goes home safely after every shift.

Safety professionals, we want to hear from you. Have you made any clarifications to your safety policies in light of new legislation? Let us know in the comment field below.

 

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