How employers can deal with relaxed marijuana laws

By Brennen Portalski, C-SAPA
Beacon Occupational Health and Safety Services Inc.

With recreational marijuana now legal in Alaska, its use is on the rise and so are the numbers of positive workplace drug test results for marijuana.

Although it has been several years since these laws went into effect, there is still a lot of confusion between employers and employees. The marijuana laws are also affecting employers and their recruitment and retention of employees. More and more we are hearing that it is difficult for employers to hire new employees because they are testing positive for marijuana.

So if you’re an employer looking to maintain a drug-free workplace program, how do you deal with this issue? Removing marijuana from a drug test panel to accommodate employees isn’t a good idea, and it’s not even an option for employers hiring employees into Department of Transportation-regulated positions.

There’s no doubt that this is a difficult time for employers, but there are ways that you can overcome these challenges that you need to know about.

Communicate drug-free expectations in job postings

First, let’s talk about job postings. The job posting is a critical part of the hiring process. You want to ensure that you hire the most qualified candidate for the position as well as one who will comply with your workplace policies. Whether your job postings state something along the lines of, “The possession, use, consumption and/or distribution of drugs in our workplace is strictly prohibited,” “All prospective employees will be required to pass a pre-employment drug test before beginning work,” “This is a drug-free workplace” or all of the above, including this language will help ensure that the applicants you appeal to are well aware of your drug-free workplace policy.

This necessary language in job postings will help reduce the number of applicants who test positive for marijuana and thus reduce your overall costs for pre-employment drug tests. When moving into the interview process, ensure the applicants are aware they must pass a drug test, including marijuana, before beginning work.

Ignorance isn’t bliss; educate employees

The next and possibly the most important step is employee education. Drug and alcohol awareness is a requirement for employees who work in certain industries. Also, an important part of keeping your business drug-free is educating employees about your company policies. Make sure that when onboarding new employees, you distribute and review your drug-free workplace policy with the employee, answer any questions about the policy and have the employee and a witness sign an acknowledgement of receipt and understanding of the policy. The acknowledgement helps protect employers from claims that the employee was unaware he or she would be tested for marijuana and other drugs or alcohol.

Consistency in enforcing the policy also helps prevent employees from using marijuana or other drugs. When applicants or employees are sent for pre-employment, random, post-accident and other reasons for drug tests, it maintains awareness among the workforce. In fact, drug testing is one of the biggest deterrents of employees using drugs, and the policy must be enforced consistently.

Offer work-sponsored activities

Maintaining awareness, educating employees and enforcing a consistent policy is often enough to prevent most employees from using drugs, but when it’s not enough, what can be done?

Unfortunately, drug use is a problem in our society, and there are certain circumstances when, even after implementing barriers to prevent the use, it continues to occur. As an employer, you have the right and responsibility to maintain a drug-free workplace, but on the other hand, there is only so much that you can do.

Offering extracurricular activities such as workplace fitness challenges, summer recreational sports teams or other team-building activities in addition to the established policy and barriers can also help prevent drug use. But if an employee has a problem with marijuana, other drugs or even alcohol, it is important for employers to provide resources to help. Employee Assistance Programs offer assistance for employees who self-disclose, have a positive result or refuse a drug test.

EAPs can offer referrals for employees to get assistance with substance abuse issues and further training and education for employees. Employers that hire employees into DOT-covered positions are required to have an EAP in place, and for those employers with nonregulated testing programs, it is a great resource for helping maintain a drug-free workplace program.

Understanding the issues sur-rounding marijuana, hiring and employee retention is key for employers with drug-free workplace programs, and knowing how to address these issues is imperative. It is safe to say that times are challenging and can even be a bit confusing when it comes to hiring.

To maintain a drug-free workplace, make sure that prospective and current employees are aware of the issues, they are continuously updated and educated on the issues and they are given options and resources for additional assistance.

Taking these steps will help with the recruiting and employee-retention process, cut down on costs and time spent on recruiting and training, and help maintain a drug-free workplace.