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Most employers will not tolerate marijuana use by workers, survey finds

Where pot is legal, majority of organizations have formal substance use policies

Posted December 16, 2015

Medical or recreational use of marijuana is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia, but employers in those locations continue to have a zero-tolerance policy about the drug’s use in the workplace, according to a survey of HR professionals.

The Policies for Marijuana Use in the Workplace study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), looked at employer policies and practices since states began legalizing marijuana. Ninety-four percent of respondents said their organization has a formal, written substance use policy.

Eighty-two percent of respondents whose organizations have operations in states where both recreational and medical use are legal said they have zero tolerance for use while working — marijuana use is not permitted for any reason. Eleven percent said exceptions are made for medical use, but that restrictions might apply.

“While marijuana use is legal in some states, it remains illegal under federal law,” said Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of survey programs. “Substance use, disciplinary, and hiring policies are all influenced by employers’ limited tolerance of marijuana use.”

More than one-third of respondents said employees at their organizations violated marijuana use policies in the past 12 months, with 4 percent of those respondents saying they had more than 10 violations during that time.

Most substance use policies include consequences for violating the policy. For a first-time violation of marijuana use policies, termination was the most frequent action taken, cited by 50 percent of respondents in states where medical marijuana is legal and 41 percent of respondents whose organizations have operations in locations where both recreational and medical marijuana are legal.

Under federal and most state laws, employers can refuse to hire marijuana users. In states where recreational use is legal, 44 percent of respondents said they do not hire recreational users.

The survey provided other details:

  • About one-half of respondents said their organizations conduct pre-employment drug testing for marijuana use for all job candidates, primarily after extending a contingent job offer. About two-fifths of respondents said their employees could be tested for marijuana use when circumstances warrant it, and more than one-quarter of respondents said all employees could be tested any time during their employment.
  • 29 percent of respondents in locations where recreational and medical marijuana use are legal said they had modified their substance use policy since legalization; 37 percent indicated that their policy is now more restrictive in the disciplinary action taken for marijuana use.

“HR professionals in states where marijuana is legal for both recreational and medical use tended to have stricter policies in place than those where only medical marijuana is legal,” Esen said.


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