What are the risks of cannabis use in the workplace for employers and employees?

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Cannabis use can pose many serious risks, and its use in the workplace is rising. Over five years amid legalization, employees’ self-reported workplace use has increased by 60%. (1) Concerningly, 34% of employees report seeing co-workers use cannabis on the job, according to the National Safety Council. (2)

Employee in safety-sensitive warehouse role 
Employee in safety-sensitive warehouse role

These risks can vary depending on the specific job and the legal status of cannabis in the area where the workplace is located. However, some potential risks include the following:

Impaired job performance: Cannabis use can impair cognitive abilities, including memory, concentration, and decision-making. This can increase the risk of mistakes, errors, and decreased productivity.

Increased risk of accidents and injuries: Cannabis use can also slow reaction times and impair motor coordination, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries in safety-sensitive jobs such as operating heavy machinery or driving vehicles. Employees who test positive for marijuana have 55% more accidents and 85% more injuries, and 75% more absenteeism. (3) The National Safety Council also found that most employees also believe cannabis impairs performance, decision-making, reaction time, and vehicle or machinery operation, especially if used during work hours. 

Increased costs: Employees working under the influence of cannabis can have accidents and injuries while working, which can cost the employer in terms of damages, worker’s compensation, medical expenses, and lost productivity. The National Institute on Drug Abuse found substance abusers cost employers twice as much in workers’ compensation and medical expenses. Additionally, substance abusers are five times more likely to file workers’ compensation claims. The average workers’ comp claim is $41,353. (4) 

Legal risks: Employers can be held legally responsible if an employee injures someone or damages property due to being under the influence of cannabis (THC). Even in areas where marijuana is legal for medical or recreational use, employers still have a legal obligation to maintain safe workplaces. 

Employers have the right to prohibit use in the workplace to maintain safety. In most states, adverse action can be taken against employees who exhibit signs of impairment and test positive for cannabis. It is important to note traditional test methods such as urine detect past use 30 days or longer. With legalization, it is potentially unfair to those employees who use cannabis on their own time and away from the workplace. As such, now is the time to move towards saliva-based testing that detects recent use within that workday. 

Legalization is still a recent and ongoing process, and not all states have the same laws or regulations on using cannabis in the workplace. Employers should be informed and have a clear policy on the matter. Moreover, cannabis use can interact differently with each person, and there are also different forms of cannabis use (i.e., smoking, edibles, etc.) that can also affect differently to the risks mentioned. 

Given all the above, employers need to consider these risks and implement HR policies to address cannabis use in the workplace to ensure a safe and productive environment for all employees.

Sources: 

  1. https://www.remedyreview.com/data/survey-high-at-work/
  2. https://www.nsc.org/getmedia/d00188d1-97c1-4898-a176-33561270a8fc/survey.pdf      
  3. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/fall2019/pages/marijuana-and-the-workplace-its-complicated.aspx
  4. https://injuryfacts.nsc.org/work/costs/workers-compensation-costs/


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