Let’s say your company’s drug-free workplace policy bans employees from working under the influence, whether it’s alcohol or drugs. How do new state marijuana laws impact that policy?
Lawyers in Colorado, where it just became legal for state residents to purchase up to one ounce of pot for recreational use, say employers can keep their drug policies just as they are. Nothing needs to change because of the new law.
That seems pretty clear. But you can bet some employees who keep hearing that small amounts of pot are now legal in the state will be confused. Doesn’t that mean a get-out-of-jail-free card if your workplace drug test comes back positive for weed?
In a word, no. The law addresses pot and the workplace directly:
“Nothing in this section is intended to require an employer to permit or accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display, transportation, sale, or growing of marijuana in the workplace, or to affect the ability of employers to have policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees.”
There are other reasons why employers can still legally fire employees whose drug tests are positive.
One is that firings have been allowed in medical marijuana cases, including one that reached an appeals court in Colorado last year.
Dish Network employee Brandon Coats was paralyzed as a teenager in a car crash. He has been a legal medical marijuana user in Colorado since 2009. He was fired in 2010 for failing a random company drug test.
The employer didn’t have to claim Coats was impaired on the job. He violated the company’s drug policy, and that was enough to fire him, said the Colorado Court of Appeals in April 2013. Coats’ lawyer has appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Another reason companies may actually be forced to keep drug-free workplace policies: federal law. Not the one that makes marijuana possession illegal, but ones addressing transportation and federal contracting issues.
Employers still have to comply with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations. Also, if a company has a federal contract, it’s required to have a drug-free workplace policy.
In an article on cobizmag.com, David Vine, HR manager for Swingle Lawn, Tree and Landscape Care in Denver, says the company’s drug-free policy is a matter of safety. The company’s employees are “operating chainsaws and climbing 60-foot trees,” Vine said.
While you don’t have to change your workplace drug policy in the states allowing recreational pot (Washington becomes the second such state later this year) or medical marijuana (20 states plus Washington, DC), this might be a good time to reinforce your policy with employees. No doubt some will think new pot laws change the situation when that’s not the case.
Has your company changed a policy in light of a new state marijuana law? Are employees confused about this? Let us know in the comments below.