Cannabis use has recently made its way onto a list of major workplace concerns facing US Human Resources professionals in 2019, right in between active shooters and workplace harassment.
In a recent survey compiled by XpertHR polling over 800 human resources professionals, 45% of respondents viewed preparing for and responding to violence in the workplace is "very" or "extremely" challenging, while 34% felt the same way about maintaining a drug-free workplace amid changing cannabis laws.
So what is it about cannabis that makes it almost as great a concern as workplace violence? The answer, in short, is confusion.
"The biggest frustration with medical marijuana is managing the conflict of state and federal marijuana laws," Beth Zoller, Legal Editor for XpertHR, told Civilized.
"That’s at the crux of the issue for most employers and businesses. The amount of states that have legalized it for medical purposes or even recreational has skyrocketed over the past few years. Companies are asking how they should be dealing with this, because you still need to ensure a safe and secure workplace, and make sure your employees are alert."
While cannabis does remain illegal under federal law, a total of 30 states have legalized it for medical use and 10 states have legalized it for adult recreational use. With this discrepancy, employers are having difficulty determining exactly what their rights are, and how to manage both recreational and medical users.
"Companies are now asking questions like, if employees are smoking recreationally after-hours, can you hold that against them? Or, if you have an individual who has cancer, and also happen to be a medical marijuana user, and you have to terminate them for a different reason, but then they say you fired them because of their condition, what recourse do you have?"
The data shows that these are areas of increasing concern, and determining how to deal with changing regulations will be a persistent challenge. Because the marijuana issue is in flux, Zoller says that, for many employers, it is important to establish a solid bedrock for dealing with the issue.
"It’s never been permissible to drink from a flask at your desk, so it’s safe to say these new cannabis laws are not a license to go to work high," she said, adding, "Still, it’s a slippery slope, and everything has to be taken on a case-by-case basis."
Zoller that these concerns will inevitably lead to reform in how employees are managed and supervised.
"It should cause employers to potentially rethink drug testing," she said. "If somebody is high and comes to work, then the truth is, that’s probably something that supervisors should be trained to identify."
"If there are performance issues, then that’s something that would be addressed regardless of what the cause was."
She acknowledges, however, that this will require a great deal of adjustment and new training initiatives because, as she points out, "a lot of the responsibilities often fall on the supervisors, who aren’t always as equipped to deal with it."
Both on the marijuana issue and the others, Zoller said that the numbers haven’t changed significantly over the three years that they’ve been collecting this data.
"There are some states that are more proactive, who tend to be closer to the coast and lean Democratic, then you have states closer to the middle of the country," she said. "In middle America, in the red states, you don’t see as much activity or change."
Seeing as these numbers are so reflective of the states that they’re tracking, the core data has remained consistent overall. However, given the rise in gun crime, the #MeToo movement and the constantly changing legal status of cannabis, the HR sentiments that the data reflects are felt much more strongly.
"I think in the years that we’ve been doing the survey, a lot of the challenges have stayed steady—just at a high rate," said Zoller.
"I think the things that were troubling for employers are still troubling, just more compounded."