Preparing for the Legalization of Marijuana. The best Tips for HR Professionals

Medicinal cannabis prescriptions fall under an HR professional's duty to accommodate. However, as the number of marijuana consumers in the United States increases, employers fear that their duty to accommodate may be abused.

Since we’re on the verge of experiencing full-blown marijuana legalization, it’s important for us, especially HR professionals to have knowledge about every aspect of it. Canada decriminalized the recreational use of marijuana on October 17th, 2018. After Uruguay, Canada is the second country in the world to legalize marijuana nationwide. Canadians will now have permission to carry a small amount of marijuana under the new laws. In some states, they can consume it in public areas, such as parks and sidewalks.

On November 6, 2018, Michigan became the 10th state in the United States to legalize the use of recreational cannabis. This has led to the people wondering what changes are going to come to the workplaces in the state. Luckily, consuming recreational cannabis at work is and probably will remain illegal. According to studies, 71% of employers cannot handle marijuana legalization in the workplace yet. The new Michigan Regulation & Taxation of Cannabis Act (the “Act”) law permits the possession and use of cannabis by people that are 21 years old and above. However, the law also gives permission for employers to keep a drug-free workplace.

With all that said, now is the best time to get your practices and policies updated. Continue reading to learn more about the legalization of marijuana and the best tips for HR professionals.

What’s Legal?

According to the law, adults can possess up to 30 grams of marijuana in public. Larger amounts of marijuana may still be subject to prosecution. The minimum age set by the federal government is 18. However, each individual state will be free to choose a higher minimum age. Each state government built the laws for their respected state and the retail process for marijuana sale.

Individuals should buy marijuana from these state government-approved outlets only. Illegal purchase of marijuana like from the black market is still deemed to be against the law. Similarly, sale and purchase of weed products to and from a minor will be considered as an offense too.

Laws for impaired driving are also likely to change owing to marijuana legalization. The states are most likely to follow a zero-tolerance policy for driving while intoxicated from weed. However, details such as the ways to detect the level of marijuana intoxication to be used by the cops are still not precise.

The state laws regarding legal and illegal practices concerned with marijuana are somewhat sketchy at the moment. Therefore, you should not forget to check out the rules in your respective state to have a clear idea about what is permissible and what isn’t where you live.

Permitting Weed at the workplace

Legalization of weed has brought forth the primary challenge that HR professionals will have to face vis-a-vis handling workers who smoke pot during or before working hours. Several questions have risen in connection to this.

How should the authority act on an employee showing up to the workplace impaired, paralyzing safety at or quality of the work? Should they be terminated on the basis of that? Are employers allowed to ban weed intake in employment bonds? Is testing for drugs permissible even on the legalization of weed? Presently there are more questions than one can provide answers for, but there are certain things we know.

Challenges concerning marijuana legalization facing Human Resources professionals

The aspect that needs utmost attention is safety at work. It is likely that employees who will be freely consuming marijuana on its legalization would not be able to carry out their tasks safely, even creating possible safety hazards for their fellow employees and legal liabilities for the business owners. Some issues arising from the consumption of weed that needs HR attention are as follows.

  • Increase in insurance and medical expenditures
  • Deterioration in productivity or presence
  • Having to deal with substance issues at the workplace
  • Inappropriate behavior during working hours
  • Increased safety violations and mishaps

Jobs Where Safety is a Priority

Works that involve the operation of heavy tools, driving, and other such occupations where safety can be potentially impacted will surely not be compromised with. They are bound to adopt a much stricter approach towards cannabis consumption.

Imagine occupations like forklift operators or heavy vehicle drivers where a moment of clouded judgment can cost someone’s life. Consuming intoxicants like alcohol is strictly prohibited while on the job. It will be the same when dealing with marijuana. However, jobs where employees mostly spend their working hours at a desk, where intoxication doesn’t pose an immediate threat to people’s lives fall into a grey area.

Consumption of Marijuana during work hours

As you may know, smoking cigarettes at workplaces is illegal just as at any other indoor public spots. Similarly, it is likely that there would be restrictions regarding where cannabis consumption will be permissible. Even though it’s presumable that cannabis intake will be forbidden on work premises some questions still prevail.

Have you taken coffee breaks, lunch break or consumption of marijuana before showing up to the workplace into account? Since each state of the US is responsible for making and implementing its own laws regarding cannabis, the exact rules are likely to vary among different provinces. Hence, employers will be required to frame separate policies synchronized with the legislature of the state that the offices are located in.

Employers must go through and update the guidelines to be followed by the employees. The instructions must clearly state the policy the employer is going to adopt for cannabis consumption and the consequences that an employee will have to face upon violation of the policy.

Can an employee be dismissed on the grounds of cannabis use?

Common sense tells cannabis consumption while or before work hours would be considered as grounds for dismissal if it affects productivity or safety. But there are chances that the legal proceedings will conclude in court siding with the employee since marijuana will have been legalized then unless the employer has substantial proof that their output or safety was affected negatively by the employee’s usage of cannabis.

Employment bonds and policies will be constructed on an employer-by-employer basis. Showing no tolerance at all also isn’t a solution because then it would violate the compulsory concessions such as in cases of medical necessities.

Employers may also consider warning the employees before considering terminating them. Others may incorporate clauses in the bonds stating and restricting consumption of cannabis office grounds and during work hours. Again, it would be illegal to dismiss an employee based on their disability alone. Substance abuse calls for consideration of human rights. It is the duty of employers to accommodate the special needs of an employee if any.

Legality of drug tests

Drug testing has been passed as discriminatory as well as legal in the past by the court and the province. However, such was the scenario when marijuana wasn’t legal. Now, with weed legalized, employee and employers’ rights seem to be conflicting, and it needs sorting out.

On one hand, employers can rightfully terminate an employee who is poor at their job for any reason as long as it isn’t any sort of discrimination. On the other hand, employees can engage in any kind of behavior outside their working hours provided it’s legal. Presently, it’s difficult to iron out these doubts or predict what these conflicts will unfurl.

Will there be a legal threshold for cannabis consumption?

Drug tests detect if there’s any THC present in your body system. THC is the chemical responsible for making cannabis effective. Unlike alcohol, there’s no permissible threshold for impairment yet. THC can prevail in the body system for numerous days since he/she had consumed weed. As a result, the detection of THC during a test doesn’t imply an impairment of the individual.

So termination of an employee based on being tested positive for THC could violate their rights if one’s unsure about when the employee consumed cannabis. Besides, there are factors such as essential metabolism, passive inhalation and also the potency of different cannabis strains.

Preparing For Cannabis Legalization

With the legalization of cannabis, employers may have to address some of the effects on the workplace. This includes:

  • Workplace safety concerns: Drug and alcohol policies and testing practices
  • Potential organization costs
  • Problematic dependence on drugs
  • Defining marijuana impairment
  • Accommodating medical marijuana use
  • Implementing prevention strategies
  • Consumption during work-related events

As it appears, most organizations basically fall into one of two groups:

Not So Concerned Organizations

Organizations that aren’t concerned take the stance that marijuana is usually not so much of a big deal. They believe that their substance abuse policies are managing this issue, for the most part. This isn’t something new from their perspective.

Many are still carrying out a quality refresh and review of their policies to make sure that there’s clear language regarding recreational use. They’re developing their fit-to-work policies to guarantee that employees are sure about what impairment in the workplace implies, and are clarifying that accommodations can only be made for medical use.

Concerned Organizations

The concerned organizations are stressed and plan to make certain strides. They may even invest energy considering how to shape their policy language in order to enable them to deal with the level of employees that may look for accommodations for medical marijuana use in the workplace. They’re focused on preparing supervisors on ways to make sure that employees are fit for work, and are giving a general instruction to employees so that they can have the knowledge required to make informed choices, as opposed to assuming they have the right facts.

These employers are additionally bound to affirm that their safety systems, occupational health, and mental health strategies are adjusted to help employees’ safety and wellbeing.

What can be done?

Ever since cannabis became legal in Canada, the number of medicinal cannabis users has also increased by a noticeable amount. The situation wouldn’t be any different anywhere else in the world. This is what the HR department needs to be prepared for. Follow the steps below to learn how you, as an HR professional, can keep cannabis at your workplace in check.

No Smoking Pot during Office Hours

It doesn’t matter whether or not weed gets legalized; all employers should impose strict rules on their employees to have them show up at work sober. This could be easy to enforce on office employees.

How Long Does Weed Stay in Your System?
How Long Does Weed Stay in Your System?

However, for workers who spend the majority of their working hours in the field (e.g., delivery drivers, security guards, etc.), it might not be that easy to monitor them. Thus you need to have a better understanding with them. In such cases, you can educate your employees on how to detox from marijuana and avoid smoking pot while working.

Clearing Doubts

We suggest that you don’t put down any queries in regards to medicinal cannabis use by the employees. Instead, what you can do is ask them to explain any accommodations needed. Also, you need to respect the workers’ right to privacy on matters regarding medical issues.

However, you do have the right to know about your employees’ medication records to ensure their efficiency at work.

Medical Use of Cannabis

Employers should insist on their employees to carefully use medicinal cannabis and avoid cannabis plant flowers in situations where they’re dependent on it to most likely tolerate pain and function well. While some state laws have a zero tolerance policy, others accommodate for medicinal cannabis use.

Drug Tests

It has become more crucial for business owners to keep drug testing policies updated as medicinal cannabis is gaining scientific and legal base by the date.

Medical Cannabis Reimbursement

HR professionals and insurance companies should work together to construct the marijuana policy at the workplaces. The Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) has elaborate materials on the legalization of marijuana that might help you in developing appropriate policies for your workplace.

The Impacts of Marijuana in the Workplace
The Impacts of Marijuana
in the Workplace

You can further take preference from Canadian insurance companies about how they prepare for marijuana legalization.

Wrapping Up

Medical and recreational cannabis should be treated as two different streams, which will help employers determine when they should be accommodating cannabis use for medical purposes. The above steps will lessen your confusion and increase transparency concerning marijuana regulation.

Mary Walton is a professional editor, content strategist and a part of NCSM team. Apart from writing, Mary is passionate about hiking and gaming. Feel free to contact her via Facebook.

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