Since the legal adoption of Marijuana for commercial and recreational use in Colorado and Washington, employers, and HR service providers, have been beginning the process of preparing for its possible legalization nationally. One HR service provider we looked at had their first webinar on the issue back in February, in anticipation of this issue becoming more and more pervasive in the workplace.
To bring some broader perspective to the issue it is important to note that at least 21 states and the district of Columbia have legalized Marijuana for medical use, at least 13 states have de-criminalized its possession, and 2 states have pulled out all the stops–the general trend is that of going towards the full legalization of its recreational use.
We have also seen a rise in workplace policies that demand a zero-alcohol, zero-drug use in or out of the workplace, even for positions that do not require the operating of heavy machinery of manual labor, which used to be where those policies were directed.
Having said that, though many companies are cracking down on the use of Marijuana in the workplace, one can make the argument that alcohol use is integrated into most organizational cultures, and embed in the forming of new social relationships. How many times have you been invited to “Happy Hour” after work? This is of course frequent in companies which provide for a zero tolerance policy for alcohol or drugs, but whose executives regularly “go out for a drink” after work with work colleagues – which has been classified in past legal cases as being considered the workplace if 3 or more employees attend. Let me be clearer about this: in some states, if 3 or more employees attend a function, and say, one person makes unwanted sexual advances on another person, resulting in the classic definition of sexual embarrassment, that second person could sue the company – yes the company – not just the offender. The same applies for that worker becoming intoxicated and harassing, physically, verbally, or sexually that other co-worker. The one assumption that has to be remembered here, is that the employer has a policy AGAINST harassment, or protection clauses exist in either state or federal law to govern that situation.
Nonetheless, employers seem to want to be liable for actions undertaken by their employees when they’re out of the workplace, by ensuring that they issue very specific policies which then their employees can use in a court to force a Mia Culpa when they are not enforced. The trend of US employers signing up to create these zero-drug zero-everything policies can now be said to have reached critical mass, but I’m still not sure if it’s a positive thing altogether. As we begin to see results coming from the Colorado and Washington experiment I imagine we’ll begin to find out whether this en masse trend is positive or negative.