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States are Legalizing Pot, but Managers Have the Same Concerns

Written By Nick Mendez | Feb 23, 2016

We’re experiencing a sea change in marijuana policy at the state level—with Oregon, Alaska, Colorado and Washington legalizing recreational use—but when it comes to corporate drug testing policies, things have mostly stayed the same.

“If the company is not concerned with the results of the test, I would not test.”

Creative companies are traditionally pretty liberal on this issue, but setting expectations for employee behavior remains of paramount importance to any manager or HR department, regardless of industry.

“I recommend employers know the state and local laws, make sure they apply things very specifically, and that they have a policy they can follow,” Eric Cook, Associate Director of HR Services and HR Consultant at Mammoth HR, told us. “If the company is not concerned with the results of the test, I would not test.”

Founded in 2002, Mammoth provides on-call HR advice, tools, resources and guidance to companies looking to build a foundation for employee success. Calls regarding drug testing have increased recently, Eric said, but the advice he provides on the matter is still largely determined by the kind of work being done.

“A company that does very serious manufacturing, I might have a slightly harder stance,” he said. “I have not talked to many marketing agencies that do any drug testing at all. They don’t gain much from it.”

In fact, creative industry hiring managers are worried about how drug testing might handicap their process by narrowing the talent pool.

“Recreational marijuana use is pretty common among designers and developers,” Eric estimated. “A really good software developer, or a really good designer, is a valuable resource. Losing 20% of your talent pool is huge.”

Among start ups—where managers are much more concerned about building a revenue stream to keep the lights on than what employees put in their bodies after hours—drug testing is virtually non-existent.

“If they’re just barely finding enough people to do the job, I guarantee you they’ll decrease the amount of drug and alcohol testing,” Eric said.

Most young companies reach out just looking to build a basic, common sense policy.

“You don’t fire someone for being an alcoholic, you fire them for getting drunk on the job.”

“Some of it is just having a handbook in place to handle issues as they come up,” he continued. “You don’t fire someone for being an alcoholic, you fire them for getting drunk on the job.”

Unfortunately for concerned hiring managers and law enforcement officials alike, scientists have yet to devise an on-demand test for marijuana use—the elusive “breathalyzer for weed”. Advances in screening technology tend to spur a wave of increased testing, Eric said.

For now, suspicious minds have to rely on well-treaded warning signs or stereotypes, and that’s dicey territory for an HR department! For them, annunciating specific guidelines, or safer yet, implementing a blanket testing policy, is an easy-to-administer way to avoid the muck and potential lawsuits.

“Marijuana is still illegal by federal law,” Eric said. “Employers have won all the cases in terms of recreational pot use. Some manufacturing companies want to increase their regimens.”

Furthermore, many states offer discounts on workers compensation insurance payments to companies that drug test.

The rapid liberalization of marijuana laws might help facilitate your perfect stoner weekend (and raise tax revenue for the state) but make no mistake—if the health or safety of others rests upon your shoulders, your ass is getting tested. Say you work in scaffolding, for instance.

“They do a lot of drug testing,” Eric noted.

This web of industry-specific policy, state and local regulations might appear complex, but for creative professionals, my advice is simple: carry yourself professionally, don’t let your recreational pursuits inhibit your productivity, and come to the office clear-headed and ready to work.

“I think marijuana will be treated more like alcohol,” Eric said. “If people are impaired on the job, that’s a problem that needs to be dealt with.”

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