Perspectives About Marijuana Use and Pre-Employment Drug Screening

 In 2019

Thoughts About Marijuana Use from A College Counselor’s Perspective – By Michelle Maller

I am an Internship and Education Coordinator in the Department of Wood Science and Engineering at Oregon State University. Part of my responsibilities are to place student interns in the wood products industry. About a year ago, I had one of my best students approach me with a situation I had not yet encountered in my career as an internship coordinator. He was a terrific student, a 3.85 GPA, and a Navy veteran. He had accepted an internship with a large wood products company, and they were requiring a drug test to begin work. For this particular student, smoking marijuana was an evening activity at his house. Recreational marijuana is legal in Oregon. He was an excellent candidate for the internship but, because of the drug testing, he was considering backing out of the internship. Rather than have him decline the opportunity, I encouraged him to call his supervisor and ask them what he should do. His supervisor admitted that this was not a situation he had been in before and gave the student an additional 60 days to clean his system to ensure that he passed the drug test.

This is not an isolated incident and, since that time, has become a more frequent challenge. Within the last month I consulted with a new hire who was leaving a different sector to join a private wood products industry company. He too had to request additional time to complete his testing. The wood products industry is begging for new and qualified employees and many potential employees are deterred from even applying for a job because they choose to partake in marijuana use when not at work. Since its legalization, Oregonians are using more marijuana than in years prior (Oregonian, 2017). An unintended result of the increased usage is the increased number of failed drug tests in employment screening. For an industry such as the wood products industry, this is an issue that needs to be addressed if we want to continue to bring young people into the industry.

Not only is pot legal in Oregon, it is also among the safest marijuana available today in the country. The pot industry in Oregon is so heavily regulated that the likelihood of a person imbibing with laced marijuana is significantly decreased from years prior. Essentially, using recreational marijuana in Oregon is the same as having a beer at night after work. Understandably, there is a certain level of caution related to usage of recreational drugs and operating heavy equipment, which can often be the duty for a wood products employee. However, history shows that employees that choose to drink, even heavily, on their own time are able to maintain their employment while employees who make a decision to legally imbibe in marijuana usage on their own time are at risk of losing their job. Using any sort of controlled substance, legal or otherwise, while working is clearly not acceptable, but the fact remains that what employees do in their spare time is their own business.

The real issue here is that young people entering the industry are being turned off of the industry because of the drug testing. With the need for new employees being so great, it would be in a company’s best interest to reevaluate their drug testing policies. Consider eliminating marijuana from the panel of testing that is performed as part of the onboarding process. Doing so may be the only hope to continue to attract new blood into an industry that is begging for employees that are more qualified.

Thoughts About Marijuana Policies from an HR Perspective – By Claudia St. John

As the legalization of marijuana, either medical or recreational, sweeps across the country, companies have struggled to come up with a viable policy to address the changing environment. Many of their concerns are valid—marijuana remains illegal at the federal level and, to date, and, unlike as exists for alcohol and other controlled substances, there exists no fool-proof test to assess whether an individual is actively under the influence of THC. Further complicating this, many companies work in dangerous industries such as those in the demolition, lumber, construction, and automotive industries, while others are required contractually to maintain a Drug-Free Workplace or to comply with Department of Transportation (DOT) or other federal safety standards which prohibit any marijuana use, regardless of state law.

So, what’s a company to do? If you are under a DOT or federal safety or drug-free workplace standard, check with an attorney, but generally you should not be required to comply with state marijuana use law.

Some of our clients have decided they are going to continue with their practice of testing for marijuana use and deny (or terminate) employment for evidence of pot use regardless of its legal status. The problem with this is two-fold: it will only exacerbate the difficulty of hiring qualified talent as Michelle describes above; and it may be illegal to do so depending on state law.

Here’s our best advice: consult with an HR or legal professional before you do anything. Generally, we advise those in states with Medical Marijuana Laws to treat pot use like a prescribed controlled substance. This includes, among other things, obtaining medical authorization for use. In states with Recreational Marijuana Laws, treat pot use like you would alcohol, meaning what employees do after work is their own concern. In either case, you are absolutely and completely within your right to take action against an employee who is actively high at work.

In all circumstances we recommend that you:

• Develop a solid marijuana use policy. Make sure it’s compliant in all of the states and cities where you operate. Best to have an attorney give it a seal of approval.

• Think carefully about your drug testing practices from a pre-employment, post-accident, and reasonable suspicion basis. Many of our clients in states with some form of legalization have dropped THC from their pre-employment drug panel but still test for it in their other drug panels.

• Train managers to spot signs of impairment and, state law permitting, train them on how to conduct onsite THC impairment assessments.

• Train all your employees on your marijuana policy to ensure they know what is allowed, what isn’t allowed, and the repercussions for violating the policy

Complying with various state and local marijuana laws is a challenge. But doing so will ensure you stay legally compliant and able to attract qualified candidates for employment.

Michelle MallerEducation and Internship Coordinator – Oregon State University. Michelle is an education and internship coordinator in the Wood Science and Engineering Department at OSU. She works closely with students to connect them with potential internships and jobs within the Wood Products industry.

Claudia St. John, President – Affinity HR Group Inc. Claudia is founder and President of Affinity HR Group, Inc., a national human resources and management consulting firm specializing in hiring and recruiting, HR compliance and employee engagement.

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