Forget about whether Bill Clinton inhaled – in Maine and several other states, employers now have the added worry of whether or not employees are coming to work high. The medical marijuana law was intended to provide relief for people suffering from chronic pain. Employers are also feeling pain as they struggle to understand and respond to employees who now carry a medical marijuana card in their wallet.
In addition, several states, including Maine, have legalized recreational marijuana use. This is uncharted territory and will eventually call into question the issue of whether employers will continue to be able to implement drug screening of prospective and current employees. Also, while a test for alcohol determines recent use, a positive test for marijuana could be the result of use weeks earlier, on the employees own time, which is now legal.
In Maine, David Ciullo, President of Career Management Associates, and Peter Lowe, a partner with Brann & Isaacson, have traveled around the state, educating employers on how to respond to issues and the unintended consequences arising from the medical marijuana law. Here is some of the information and advice they’ve shared with their employers.
Learn to Determine if Employees are ‘Fit for Duty’
Dealing with an employee who shows up for work under the influence of medical or recreational marijuana is no different than dealing with an employee who is under the influence of alcohol, other drugs, or even prescription or over-the-counter medicine. Access to medical or recreational marijuana does not give anyone permission or an excuse to come to work under the influence. It is important that employers learn how to recognize impairment in the workplace. Check with your state’s labor board to find if they offer classes on spotting workplace impairment. While you cannot ask your employees if they are using medical marijuana, you do have the right to make a determination if they are fit for duty. Any employee who is determined to be under the influence should be immediately asked to leave the workplace.
Like Other Drugs, Marijuana is a Safety Risk
Your goal is to maintain a safe environment for your employees and customers. An employee under the influence of anything, including medical marijuana, is a safety risk. You would not let a drunk employee drive a company vehicle or operate a forklift, and marijuana use should be treated the same way. An employee high on marijuana should not be allowed to operate that type of machinery either.
The Law is on Your Side
Employers have the right to tell their employee that they cannot bring or use medical marijuana during work hours. It should also be understood that use of recreational marijuana, like alcohol, is banned at work. Even if an employee shows their medical marijuana card and voices their interpretation of the law, as an employer you have the court system on your side. It is perfectly legal for an employer to refuse to let employees use medical marijuana during their breaks and lunch hour.
Employers and the court system are still struggling to understand the workplace implications of new marijuana laws. As employers wade through this uncharted territory, they may find themselves struggling to respect the right of their employees while maintaining a safe and efficient workplace. The possibility of losing qualified employees who do not wish to be tested for a legal drug may also become a factor.
Whatever the results, there is one important thing to remember: as an employer, it is your right to refuse to let an employee under the influence of any drug perform a task that would violate the safety of other people.