Cannabis in the Workplace


Date: October 22, 2019

Nancy Rigby, BITCO Home Office Technical Specialist, Risk Control

Steps to maintaining a safe work environment 

More than half of U.S. states have decriminalized some form of medical or recreational marijuana, and the demand for cannabis is increasing dramatically.

Employers and business owners now face new legal challenges. When marijuana was illegal under both state and federal law, employers would commonly prohibit employees from using marijuana as a condition of employment. But as states began to allow its use, things have gotten hazier.

How do you balance these legal changes with the desire to maintain a safe workplace?

The first step is to take time to review current policies and evaluate the need for changes to ensure employee safety and reduce company risk. In this article, we share our recommendations for cannabis in the workplace.

Why is a cannabis policy necessary?

The negative effects from cannabis use can have a major impact on worker safety. It diminishes depth perception, reaction time, short-term memory and motor skills. It may also lead to increased risk-taking.

According to the National Safety Council, in 2014, workplace drug testing showed more than 20 million employees tested positive for cannabis use. Compared to those who tested negative, employees who tested positive for cannabis were involved in:

  • 55 percent more industrial accidents
  • 75 percent greater absenteeism
  • 85 percent more injuries

When it comes to operating vehicles, the dangers are also very evident. Nearly seven percent of drivers involved in fatal car accidents tested positive for THC. In addition, marijuana users are roughly 25 percent more likely to be involved in a car accident than drivers with no evidence of drug use.

Legal considerations

Although state laws vary, what is true in every state is that these laws don’t require employers to permit drug use in the workplace or allow employees to perform work while under the influence.

As an employer you must:

  • Comply with federal and state laws
  • Maintain a safe work environment
  • Protect employees’ rights

To ensure your programs are within the law, we recommend you seek legal advice from an attorney with experience in this area as it relates to employment law and safety compliance.

How to maintain a safe workplace

To help navigate nuanced laws, employers – especially those with a multi-state footprint – should develop a well-defined, non-discriminatory drug policy and testing program.

In addition, we recommend you:

  • Create a written policy that clearly defines restrictions on use and possession
  • Ensure all employees are aware of this policy
  • Train supervisors and management to enforce the policy
  • Clearly define and communicate the consequences of violating the policy
  • Establish a protocol for drug testing – this can include pre-employment drug tests, random drug tests, reasonable suspicion tests and post-accident drug tests

An effective drug policy decreases hazards and promotes an accident-free work environment. If you would like to know more about BITCO Risk Control services, consult with your BITCO agent.

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For information purposes only. BITCO's blog content does not address all potential circumstances and is not a substitute for business, safety, or legal consultation.

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