Companies need workers — but people keep getting high

By Danielle Paquette May 17 at 1:50 PM

Workers at McLane drive forklifts and load hefty boxes into trucks. The grocery supplier, which runs a warehouse in Colorado, needs people who will stay alert — but prospective hires keep failing drug screens.

“Some weeks this year, 90 percent of applicants would test positive for something,” ruling them out for the job, said Laura Stephens, a human resources manager for the company in Denver.

The state’s unemployment rate is already low — 3 percent, compared to 4.7 percent for the entire nation. Failed drug tests, which are rising locally and nationally, further drain the pool of eligible job candidates. 

“Finding people to fill jobs,” Stephens said, “is really challenging.”

Job applicants are testing positive for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamine and heroin at the highest rate in 12 years, according to a new report from Quest Diagnostics, a clinical lab that follows national employment trends. An analysis of about 10 million workplace drug screens from across the country in 2016 found positive results from urine samples increased from 4 percent in 2015 to 4.2 percent in 2016.

The most significant increase was in positive tests for marijuana, said Barry Sample, the scientist who wrote the report. Positive tests for the drug reached 2 percent last year, compared with 1.6 percent in 2012.

Although state laws have relaxed over the past four years, employers haven’t eased up on testing for pot, even where it’s legal.

California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada moved last year to legalize recreational marijuana, joining Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washingtona. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia, meanwhile, permit medical marijuana.

Under federal law, however, weed remains illegal — and employers in the United States can refuse to hire anyone who uses it, even if they have a prescription, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

In the oral fluid testing category, which picks up on recent drug use, and is typically used to test workers on the job, positive drug tests for marijuana surged about 75 percent in the United States over the past four years — from 5.1 percent in 2013 to 8.9 percent in 2016, according to Quest. The data show smaller increases in urine and hair testing (a 4.2 percent increase over the past year).

Colorado and Washington, which became the first two states to legalize weed in 2012, showed the largest growth in positive tests. Urine screens that detected pot rose 11 percent in Colorado and 9 percent in Washington, the first time either state outpaced the national average since residents could lawfully light up a joint.

Quest noted that employers are also increasingly encountering job applicants who take other illicit substances. Tests that turned up cocaine increased 12 percent in 2016, hitting a seven-year high of 0.28 percent, up from 0.25 percent in 2015. Positive test results for amphetamine jumped 8 percent.

The culture change in pro-marijuana states hasn’t broadly altered the way employers screen applicants, said Sample, the scientist. “Ninety-nine percent of drug panels we perform in Colorado and Washington,” he said, “still test for marijuana.”

Companies such as McLane, where employees operate heavy machinery, keep testing for marijuana out of concern for everyone’s safety, said Stephens, the human resources manager.  The firm conducts follicle tests, which can catch traces of weed for up to three months after someone smokes.

She said the company saw “a big spike” is failed tests after pot became legal.

Meanwhile, Colorado’s legal marijuana business is booming. By 2016, Colorado had 440 marijuana retail stores and 531 medical dispensaries, one report showed last year — double the number of McDonald’s and Starbucks stores in the state.

Curtis Graves, the information resource manager at the Mountain States Employers Council, a business group in Colorado, said a small number of his members have dropped THC testing from drug screens, but others don’t have that option,

Truck and school bus drivers, for example, are required by law to prove they don’t have marijuana in their system before taking a job. Same goes for pilots, subway engineers and security guards. The Department of Transportation does not recognize medical marijuana as a “valid medical explanation” for failing a drug test.  

“Some employers are extremely worried about filling jobs,” Graves said. “Work that is considered ‘safety sensitive’ typically requires that test, and that’s not changing.”

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NORML Forms Multi-State Workplace Drug Testing Coalition

by Kevin Mahmalji, NORML Outreach Coordinator February 14, 2017

The fact that 190 million Americans now live in states where marijuana has been legalized to some degree is raising a number of questions and issues about how to integrate the American workforce and marijuana consumers rights in regards to drug testing. With medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and recreational marijuana for adult use in 8 states and Washington DC, millions of responsible and otherwise law-abiding adults remain at risk of being excluded from the workforce due to a positive drug test — even where the use does not affect an individual’s job performance or has taken place days or weeks prior to the test.

NORML believes that this practice is discriminatory and defies common sense. As a result, a growing coalition of NORML Chapters in California, Oregon, Colorado and Washington have come together to advocate for necessary legislative and workplace reforms to protect responsible marijuana consumers.

NORML’s Workplace Drug Testing Coalition’s efforts will focus on these four areas:

  1. Reform workplace drug testing policies
  2. Expand employment opportunities for marijuana consumers
  3. Clarify the difference between detection technology and performance testing
  4. Highlight off-duty state law legal protections for employees

“Even though marijuana is legal and readily available in several states, consumers are being unfairly forced to choose between their job and consuming off the clock as a result of out-of-date employment practices,” said Kevin Mahmalji, National Outreach Coordinator for NORML. “That is why many NORML chapters active in legal states are now shifting their attention to protecting honest, hardworking marijuana consumers from these sort of antiquated, discriminatory workplace drug-testing practices, in particular the use of random suspicionless urine testing.”

Employer testing of applicants or employees for trace metabolites (inert waste-products) of past use of a legal substance makes no sense in the 21st century.  This activity is particularly discriminatory in the case of marijuana where such metabolites may be detectable for weeks or even months after the consumer has ceased use.

With the 2017 Legislative Session underway, this issue is finally getting the attention it deserves. Legislation has already been introduced in Oregon and Washington, and is gaining traction in those states.

“Random suspicionless drug testing of applicants or employees for past marijuana use is not just unfair and discriminatory, it’s bad for business,” said attorney Judd Golden of Boulder, Colorado, a long-time NORML activist and Coalition spokesperson. The modern workforce includes countless qualified people like Brandon Coats of Colorado, a paraplegic medical marijuana patient who never was impaired on the job and had an unblemished work record. Brandon was fired from a Fortune 500 company after a random drug test, and lost his case in the Colorado Supreme Court in 2015. The Court unfortunately found Colorado’s lawful off-duty activities law that protects employees for legal activities on their own time didn’t apply to marijuana use.

California NORML is also expecting legislation to be introduced this session to address this issue. Ellen Komp, deputy director of California NORML said, “One of the most frequently asked questions we have been getting since Prop. 64 passed legalizing adult marijuana use in California last November is, ‘Am I now protected against drug testing on my job?’ Sadly in our state, not even medical marijuana patients are protected against job discrimination, and it’s a priority of Cal NORML to change that. We are hoping to get a bill introduced at the state level and are working with legislators, unions, and other reform groups to make that happen.”

NORML Chapters across the country are advocating on behalf of the rights of responsible marijuana consumers against discrimination in the workplace. “Our coalition was formed with the intention of not only educating legislators, but also with businesses in mind.  It is important they know testing for marijuana is not mandatory, and that employers have testing options,” said Jordan Person, executive director for Denver NORML. The Denver chapter is currently working with companies that offer performance impairment testing of workers suspected of on-the-job impairment or use rather than unreliable bodily fluid testing to help provide options for employers.

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For decades drug testing companies and others have pushed their agenda through a campaign of misinformation. Until now there has never been an organized effort to challenge the profit- driven ideology of those who seek to benefit from intrusive drug screening. Mounting evidence continues to prove there is no logical reason why adult marijuana consumers should be treated with any less respect, restricted more severely, and denied the same privileges we extend to responsible adults who enjoy a casual cocktail after a long day at the office.

For legal questions, please contact Coalition spokesperson Judd Golden at [email protected] For other marijuana related questions or an interview, please contact Kevin Mahmalji at [email protected]

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(OR) Senate Bill 301 may make marijuana drug tests illegal in the workplace

by Kimberly Kolliner

Monday, January 30th 2017

MEDFORD, Ore. – Regardless of if it’s legal in the state, right now, failing a marijuana drug test could cost you your job.

“For us, marijuana is still classified federally as a schedule 1 controlled substance so we do include it in our drug screening,” People’s Bank Chief Operating Officer, Jeri Reno.

However, this may change.

The Oregon Senate has introduced Bill 301, which proposes marijuana testing in the work place to be illegal, because its use in the state is legal.

This is something that Reno sees no immediate threat with.

“I think that’s going to be a wave of the future in that just like alcohol, marijuana is going to be used recreational and it would be honored as such. I think we’ll just see what it brings,” Reno said.

As an employer, Reno says work performance is the only thing she would be concerned with.

Something the bill also clearly outlines.

“We essentially are looking for employees who are productive and without possibility of being impaired in the workplace,” Reno said.

She believes if marijuana is used on employees off time, it should have no burden on employees while they’re on the clock.

“I would think our employees would continue to be responsible in the way they use marijuana or alcohol and I wouldn’t see much difference in the workplace,” Reno said.

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Legal Marijuana Poses New Problems For Employee Drug Testing

Pot is legal in some form in 28 states, but it remains illegal under federal law

By

Rachel Emma Silverman

Nov. 22, 2016 11:00 a.m. ET

21 COMMENTS

A raft of new state marijuana legalization laws presents employers with hazy challenges when it comes to workplace drug testing.

Companies that wish to maintain drug-free workplaces face a confusing patchwork of state and federal laws, and it is a gray area in some states whether employers can fire or discipline workers for pot use, say employment lawyers.

In California, where medical marijuana is already legal, voters approved recreational pot on Election Day. Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada passed similar measures, while Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota legalized or expanded medical marijuana measures. These new laws make pot legal in some form in more than half the country—28 states. Meanwhile, it remains illegal under federal law.

 

The legal, recreational use of marijuana passed in four states on Tuesday with another three states passed it for medicinal use. Lance Rogers, manager of the cannabis law practice for law firm Greenspoon Marder, explains how Tuesday’s votes could influence efforts to legalize pot in other states. Photo: Getty

In states like Massachusetts and California, where recreational and medicinal pot use is now legal, employers should tread carefully when testing workers for pot under drug-free workplace policies, says Amanda Baer, an attorney at the Mirick O’Connell law firm in Worcester, Mass. Firing or disciplining a worker for a positive drug test could open firms to legal challenges from employees, she says.

“No company wants to be the test case,” she says. “If workers are not in a safety-sensitive position, they probably shouldn’t be tested.”

One concern is that the active ingredient in marijuana can stay in a worker’s body for several days and it may be hard to tell whether employees used the drug off the job or if they are currently under the influence, she says.

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Employers are at risk for liability, however, if workers in safety-sensitive positions are high while operating heavy equipment, driving passenger vehicles or doing other tasks that jeopardize worker safety.

In either case, employers should make their policies on pot and drug testing clear to workers ahead of time so workers know what to expect, adds Ms. Baer. Firms should also receive legal counsel specific to their state, since the details of marijuana laws vary state by state.

As pot becomes legal in more states, some employers may also permit on-the-job pot smoking, just as some allow workplace happy hours and beer fridges, according to Ms. Baer. Under Massachusetts’ law, for instance, employers have the right to prohibit or expressly allow on-site marijuana use.

“If your employer allows it, Pot Fridays could happen,” says Ms. Baer.

Write to Rachel Emma Silverman at [email protected]

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Employers tightening drug policies since marijuana legalization

 
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"There is what I consider to be a significant number of employers that are saying they wouldn’t hire an employee that uses marijuana," said Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of survey programs.

 

Published: Dec 15, 2015, 11:37 am

By Bloomberg News

With marijuana legalization spreading state-by-state and the U.S. government backing away from aggressive enforcement of federal laws, employers have begun to reconsider their substance abuse policies. They’re making them tougher.

In a first-of-its-kind survey, the Society of Human Resource Management asked 623 HR managers in states where marijuana is legal about their drug policies.

Unsurprisingly, getting stoned at work is largely frowned upon, SHRM found, regardless of legality. It turns out a large chunk of workplaces also won’t hire employees who smoke on their own time.

Marijuana is legal for recreational use in the nation’s capital and four states, including Colorado. In almost 20 others, it’s allowed for medicinal purposes.

More than half of the HR managers surveyed said they have policies, or plan to implement them, restricting the employment of marijuana users. About 38 percent said they will flat-out reject users even if they claim medical reasons. Six percent said their policy will exclude only those who partake for fun.

“There is what I consider to be a significant number of employers that are saying they wouldn’t hire an employee that uses marijuana,” said Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of survey programs.

Companies can maintain stricter policies in states where pot is legal because federal law, which governs most workplace rules, still considers marijuana to be a controlled substance.

Over the summer, the Colorado Supreme Court said it was legal to fire an employee for legally smoking medicinal marijuana while not at work.

That said, what HR managers proclaim and what they do don’t always match up. Fewer employers are drug testing now than five years ago, SHRM numbers show. A 2011 survey of 632 HR professionals found that 55 percent were testing all potential employees.

A little less than half of those surveyed in the new study said their organization does pre-employment drug testing for all candidates, which just about matches testing practices nationwide.

Denver-based Mountain States Employers Council reported that only one in five companies in Colorado planned to make drug-testing more stringent after marijuana legalization last year.

Employers are most likely to test current employees if there’s an accident or a reason to think they’re coming to work high, the survey found.

“Some companies have stated more clearly that they reserve the right to test, letting employees know that it’s not OK to come to work under the influence,” said Lara J. Makinen, an HR coordinator at the Denver-based Atkins, a design and engineering consulting firm.

In states where weed is legal for recreational use, 39 percent of those surveyed have policies that single out marijuana use.

Employers might make more drastic changes if pot use were to start interfering with work life.

So far, apart from one local news story, there haven’t been reports of hordes coming to work stoned. That jibes with SHRM’s findings. Only 21 percent of employers reported more than three incidents of employees violating policy regarding marijuana use over the last year.

“It doesn’t appear to be a really major problem,” Esen said. “It doesn’t seem like employees are going out there and rampantly using marijuana in greater numbers than before.”

This story was first published on DenverPost.com

Topics: drug testing, employers, employers drug testing policies, workplace, zero tolerance

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