From a sociological perspective, watching the transition of cannabis from the illegal “evil weed” to the accepted legal recreational pastime has been fascinating. In the last 20 years or so our country has gone from zero tolerance to legalization in one form or another in more than 36 states. Eighteen states plus the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for recreational use. But just because it’s legal in a particular state does not mean it is an accepted activity in all communities. There are lots of municipalities that will not allow the sale or consumption of cannabis – recreational or medicinal – in their communities, even in states that have deemed it legal. Yet other communities have decided to allow legal sales, adding on onerous taxes that many cities, counties and states hope will help fill their tax coffers.
Even though pot might be legal in your state doesn’t mean you should be smoking during your lunch or taking toke breaks while on the job. What you do on your own time, in the privacy of your own personal space, is your own business, and should be no one else’s concern. However, when it comes to consumption on the job or away from work and it affects your productivity, then it becomes your bosses business.
In the same ways that alcohol consumption is frowned upon during work hours, so is cannabis. Most employers have little to no tolerance for workers who are intoxicated while on the job; whether lightly buzzed or totally blasted, regardless of the intoxicant. No matter the employers’ concerns are about safety, productivity, communication or company image, getting high on the job is not acceptable behavior. We are long past the age of the two-martini lunch where employees came back to work “altered” as acceptable practice. Modern worker health and safety protocols have made on-the-job and for-the-job consumption a thing of the past.
Depending on your work responsibilities even in states where cannabis is legal employers retain the right to drug testing. Employers can demand a drug screening for any employee at any time, particularly if one’s behavior or performance on the job becomes erratic. An obvious change in behavior, productivity, communication or other signs might trigger an investigation into those changes through drug testing.
Behavior or productivity can sometimes be affected by traditionally prescribed medication as well. If you are under a doctor’s orders to take prescriptions that are causing changes at work, it might be best to bring this to the attention of your employer or HR department, if only to head-off an unnecessary investigation or unwarranted accusations.
Despite legalization, there is still a very prevalent negative connotation to cannabis consumption, yet some employers have turned a blind eye. Recently I walked past a woman smoking a cannabis vape pen (you could easily tell she wasn’t smoking tobacco from the smell). An employee of a brew pub we were approaching, she was sitting on the side path to the pub. Because she was obviously on her job, albeit on a break, I asked her if her cannabis consumption was a problem for her employer. She told me that as long as her work wasn’t affected the boss didn’t care. Then she added, “If it weren’t so busy he’d probably come out and smoke some too.”
From a liability standpoint, this is a mistake on the employer’s part. Since I didn’t have a discussion with her employer, I can only guess that the employer accepts the risks that his employees will do their best to not deliberately cause any problems or make any major mistakes. However, stuff happens! If his employee had an accident while on the job that caused injury to herself or her customers, insurance might not cover the claim because the employee was high.
Similarly, if an employee’s responsibility includes operating a motor vehicle or heavy machinery and had an accident while on something, there is a strong likelihood, even in a cannabis-legal State, insurance would deny the claim because the employee was intoxicated. In both of these cases, both the business and employee could be subject to legal civil action for negligence and the employee for “being under the influence” that would not be covered by insurance.
There’s little question that cannabis will be legalized in even more states in the coming years. There’s also no denying that a good many people who consume cannabis – either medicinally or recreationally – do so without making it public, particularly at work, recognizing that there remains a stigma to its use in many circles. Choosing to keep one’s use private is the best way to avoid those lingering negative perceptions.
The bottom line is this: Doing drugs on the job is not recommended, even if your employer also likes to indulge. Same with operating a motor vehicle or heavy machinery; don’t do it while high or buzzed. It truly is an accident waiting to happen. And when it does, your whole world goes to pot.