Marijuana Legalization and What it Means for Employers
A 2016 Gallup poll revealed that 1 in 8 American adults count themselves as current marijuana users. According to the federal government, the number of employed drug users rose from 8.28 million in 2013 to 8.98 million in 2014. With the continued rising popularity of marijuana as a “safe” drug, many of these substance-abusing employees undoubtedly use marijuana.
Potential consequences of marijuana use in the workplace include but are not limited to:
- Inconsistent work quality
- Poor concentration/lack of focus
- Lowered productivity, erratic focus, or both
- Increased absenteeism
- Unexplained job site disappearances
- Carelessness, mistakes, or errors in judgment
- Needless risk taking
- Disregard for safety
- On-the-job and off-the-job accidents or incidents
- Extended lunch periods and early departures
- Increased driver accidents
It may seem obvious why someone impaired by marijuana should not operate a forklift, jackhammer, or perform other traditional “safety-sensitive” job functions, but employers may not immediately realize the danger when “ordinary” employees are impaired by marijuana. Physicians may misdiagnose patients, sales reps may cause an accident when driving between appointments, a secretary might accidentally leak files containing important information, etc. Any workplace can become unsafe when its employees are impaired by marijuana, even those that are not traditionally considered safety-sensitive, not federally regulated, or both.
According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, as many as 50% of all workers’ compensation claims are related to the abuse of alcohol or drugs in the workplace. Drug users, as a whole, use medical benefits at a rate eight times higher than non-users. Additionally, substance abusing employees are absent from work more often than their non-substance abusing co-workers, often resulting in increased workloads for co-workers and decreased employee morale.
As the drive to legalize marijuana continues, employers will be faced with increased workplace costs due to the safety-concerns and lost wages associated with impaired employees. With laws currently proposed that would severely limit or even prohibit employers from testing for THC, employers should be concerned about the continued right to maintain a safe and productive workplace.