Be diligent against marijuana use


Christopher Dik

The battle for legalizing weed in Massachusetts reached its climax on Nov. 20 when a pot shop in Leicester opened. But the right to legally go one toke over the line will impact employers.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes the short-term effects of marijuana include impaired body movement, difficulty with thinking and problem-solving, memory problems and an altered sense of time: a deadly combination when operating a high-powered saw or a tractor trailer. In May 2015, an article in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine concluded while marijuana use may be reasonably safe in some controlled environments, its association with workplace accidents raises concern.

Employers will be required to make sure their pre-employment drug-testing policies and employee handbook reflect the times. It's important to make job candidates understand the company's substance abuse policy can prohibit an employee from using or being under the influence of marijuana, including medical marijuana, at work. A policy needs to be in place making it crystal clear employees are prohibited from being impaired while on the job.

Marijuana can stay in a person's system from 24 to 48 hours after casual use and up to a month for chronic use. So having an accident on a Tuesday and drug-testing positive because someone had a joint while watching the football game on Sunday, raises certain questions, like whether or not a person's job performance is being impacted by their weekend activities.

Businesses need protection. Josh Hovey of the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol said, “The coalition felt it was important for business to have the right to test employees and reject or fire them for failing a drug test.”

So with businesses already facing an opioid epidemic, we now toss marijuana into the drug-testing mix. This means employers must determine whether to maintain zero-tolerance drug policies or create more tolerant guidelines. And it's likely the legalization of marijuana is sure to ratchet up the number of lawsuits as employers begin using it as a basis for either not hiring future employees or terminating existing ones. Labor experts recommend employers instead sit down with qualified candidates who fail pre-screening drug tests, even those with a legal medical marijuana card, and draft up a contract saying they will be terminated if they fail any subsequent testing. This would cover employers against lawsuits brought forth by the weekend tokers.

What will come to light once the haze of smoke dissipates is Massachusetts employers need to be diligent and take a hard reality check on their pre-employment drug testing and drug policies when a workplace injury occurs. Keep employee handbooks up-to-date and written in language that can never be wrongly interpreted, such as letting employees know the lunchtime smoking area doesn't include anything you rolled yourself on the way to work that morning.

Christopher Dik is a property & casualty consultant with Knight-Dik Insurance Agency, Inc. in Worcester.

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