Because the Southwest Washington Contractors Association (SWCA) spends much of its time assisting companies with workplace safety, there were a lot of questions and concerns following I-502’s passage about how employees would react to the new law and if they would perceive that it is now okay to get high before or during work. This was especially troubling for those companies who operate heavy machinery or specialize in dangerous trades. While there are still many questions about how and if this law will be implemented, there is clear agreement among the legal and safety community that even if it is legal, the use of marijuana is still not acceptable or recommended in the workplace.
Eric Sander of Precision Bonding LLC and the SWCA’s L&I Retrospective Rating Program (Retro) administrator, emphasized that the law does not and should not change safe workplace practices.
“We are encouraging our employers to maintain a drug free workplace and to continue to promote safety,” said Sander. “What would you do if an employee had a bottle of whiskey on the job? The same should be said for an ounce of weed. Both are legal, both have no place on the job site.”
The question of getting high at work seems relatively straight forward, but what is less clear now is whether employees can smoke on a Friday and come to work on Monday without fear of failing a drug test. Bryce Sinner, corporate counsel with Stellar J Corporation reinforced that drug policies need not change.
“Our take is that it’s at-will employment, and marijuana use isn’t exactly a protected class or activity, so we intend to continue to strictly enforce our policy,” he said.
Integrated Claims Management (ICM) of Olympia has also weighed in on the issue and will continue to post answers to these and other related questions as the law gets sorted out. As safety experts, ICM will also be tracking any relationship between increases in on the job injuries that may be related to I-502. To read their blog post on the subject, visit the Integrated Claims Management (ICM) website.
Mike Bomar is the executive director for the Southwest Washington Contractors Association (SWCA), a Construction Trade Association and Plan Center representing more than 340 businesses in Southwest Washington. He can be reached at Mike@swca.org.
The current consensus in the legal community seems to be that the change in Washington law regarding marijuana should not cause employers to change their drug testing policy. Keep in mind that marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. For those doing work in Oregon, you should know that absent the exceptions for medical use, it is still illegal in Oregon. Also, the change in the law in Washington does not mean you have to hire people who use marijuana. Finally, you do not want employees high at work, just like you do not want employees intoxicated at work, both for productivity and safety reasons.
Employers should consider having their attorney look at their overall drug and alcohol policy. Employers should also remind their employees what the company policy is, so that none are under a false impression that due to the change in Washington Law they are exempt from the policy.
Communication is key
Our recommendation to all employers is to take the time to ensure that every employee clearly understands your company’s drug policy. Do not assume that your team knows what their rights and responsibilities are in the new “legal marijuana” environment.
Albert F. Schlotfeldt is a SWCA board member and attorney at Duggan Schlotfeldt & Welch PLLC. He specializes in construction and real estate law, commercial litigation and commercial leasing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.