by Comprehensive Staff

03/08/2016 5:17 pm

Marijuana and Workplace Safety

Marijuana in the workplace

Now that recreational marijuana use is legal in Washington State, we frequently receive questions about the impacts of marijuana in the workplace from managers and supervisors in organizations who contract with us for employee assistance program (EAP) services. 

While recreational use of marijuana is legal in Washington, employers still have the right and obligation to protect the health and safety of their employees.  Legal use laws do not prevent an employer from setting standards of conduct for their employees to promote employee productivity and safety. 

Nationally, the perceived harm of marijuana use is declining at the same time that marijuana use is increasing (National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2014).   Employee marijuana use has been linked to lower productivity, increased workplace accidents and injuries, increased absenteeism, and lower morale (http://www.drugfreeworkplace.org/10-facts-about-marijuana/).  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, some of the medically problematic short-term effects of marijuana include: problems with learning and memory, distorted perception (sights, sounds, time, touch), and poor motor coordination.  Clearly, increased marijuana use among employees and job applicants can have significant impacts on company productivity and safety.

Legalized recreational marijuana use does not mean that Washington State employers have to compromise workplace safety or productivity.  For employers who operate under federal contracts, or the Department of Transportation rules for safety-sensitive positions, the issue is clear.  Federal rules apply, and under federal rules, marijuana remains illegal.  Medical or recreational marijuana use is not an option. 

So far, the Washington State Supreme Court has sided with employers who have drug-free workplace policies that address marijuana use.  In 2011, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that an employer is not required to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee who is using marijuana based on a physician’s recommendation, and an employer may fire a worker who uses medical marijuana, even when the worker uses it only at home and exhibits no impairment at work.  However, the employer must have an up-to-date and well-crafted substance use policy and enforce its provisions consistently.

If you have questions about marijuana or other drug use in the workplace, or want to learn more about Comprehensive’s Employee Assistance Program services, contact our EAP Coordinator at eap@cwcmh.org or (509) 575-3786.