Up in Smoke - Adapting Drug Policies

Posted: Nov 5, 2014
Views: 2808 - Comments: 5

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Well, it happened. Last night here in Oregon, we legalized marijuana. I have to hand it to the pro marijuana people. Their campaign was pretty strong. They promised lower crime rates, more tax money for schools, and more time for courts to focus on important things like rape and murder. Can't get more important than rape and murder. . .

I don't really know how everything will turn out crime wise, but for employers the hot topic of marijuana just got hotter. I'll start with what I do know. It is still legal to require employees to be sober at work. Because marijuana is a newly legalized drug this is sometimes a question for managers, but let's look at it this way:

Once, many years ago, we had an employee who came into work wearing sunglasses, slurring her words, and acting generally very weird. A meeting with me ensued fairly shortly after her arrival to work and she explained she was on quite a bit of valium. Which was legally prescribed by her doctor.

Would you be cool with that? She is handling patients, doing treatments, restraining . . .

No? We weren't either.

The same holds true for marijuana. Just because it's legal doesn't mean an employee can come to work impaired. You should make sure to have a strong Drug Free Workplace policy that outlines this for you.

Now, the tricky part is how your clinic will handle recreational use outside of the workplace. This comes up with pre-employment drug testing and social media posts (bong pictures are totes the thing now).

So, let's start with recreational use. Courts in Washington and Colorado have continued to uphold an employer's right to require employees abstain from recreational drug use. This is because marijuana is still illegal on a federal level. So, the question: where do you and your clinic leadership stand on this issue? Whichever way, make sure it is clear in your drug policy. And keep an eye on the courts here. This is all new legislation.

Social media is the second tricky part when it comes to drugs. I already get a lot of calls from practice managers with questions about employees posting pictures of recreational marijuana use. What do you do now that it is legal?

First, as a reminder, social media is a public forum. Our first amendment gives us the right not to have our speech sanctioned by the government (not private entities). That being said, I don't friend/follow my employees nor do I spend my free time searching for them online. But people do sometimes send me screenshots of posts and it is my obligation as a manager to respond.

The question about recreational use goes back to how your clinic feels about it. If your policy is that you are cool with it, then you must also be cool with the social post. The caveat to this is if your employee is posting pictures of themselves getting high at work, in clinic scrubs, or otherwise representing your company unprofessionally. There was a similar situation where a flight attendant took a picture of herself wearing her uniform with the shirt open. The picture was taken before passengers boarded the plane. But the picture was in the workplace and she was wearing her work uniform. Therefore it was deemed unprofessional. Unprofessionalism can always be addressed.

So, we Oregonians have a lot to do in the next few weeks. We need to update our drug policies and communicate about it with our staff. For the rest of you, breathe easy for now. But get ready as I predict change is coming your way...



Brennen Johnson's picture

I believe in the idea that what happens outside of your job STAYS out of your job. That includes social media like facebook or twitter. The field in which we work is a professional field, so we employees should act like professionals. Represent the education you received (or working to receive). I would NEVER go to work impaired on anything, legal or not. The patients safety is greater then that and the whole reason we do what we do.

Monica Maxwell's picture

Good points Brennen. I philosophically agree that what happens outside of the job should stay there, but legally as managers we are sometimes legally required to follow-up on things that happen outside of work that effect the work environment. I am also a big believer that our industry is one full of compassionate, caring, and profession people who always put their patients first. As an industry, veterinary professional are the some of the most hard working and professional people I have ever met. The goal of this blog was to make sure there is a dialog about recreational drug use (for those states where it is legal) and to make sure their staff knows where the clinic stands.

Robert Gilbert's picture

I disagree with keeping things entirely separate...especially when we are talking about criminal offenses...drug use and abuse is something I consider, under any circumstances, as undesirable in my employees. Would you hire someone with those tendencies? I have experienced alcohol absenteeism with my former employees...usually on a Monday morning...something that occurred outside of the job ...they would never show up impaired but the reason for missing work was not acceptable.

Jennifer Addington's picture

I was just reading this, we in Alaska have legalized marijuana as well. I feel that staff are generally aware that they should not be at work, high, drunk, on prescribed meds etc. I was wondering if there is an update to this article? Have you noticed any changes in your practice?

Monica Maxwell's picture

Hi Jennifer, we are still following federal regulations when it comes to marijuana. We have lost more candidates than we use to over positive drug tests, but not enough to make us rethink our policy. We are very clear on our job postings about drugs, including marijuana so a larger impact may be that there are people who are not applying. That is harder for us to gage. Our Dove crew continues to be very aware of this policy. One important thing to note about marijuana in the workplace is there is still a lot of debate about what constitutes "impaired." If you do consider allowing marijuana, work closely with your testing lab and legal counsel on this as marijuana is absorbed differently by different people. Some can have a positive test within 24 hours and some people have it in their system at testable levels longer. This is still a new frontier for employers!