WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) holds a panel on state and national drug law each year at its employment law and legislative conference, but this year, shifts in state law and deep tragedy have brought the issue to the forefront.

James Reidy, attorney at Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green PA, jokingly said he’s become known as the “pot lawyer” partly thanks to the wave of marijuana laws and court precedent that has forced employers to reconsider their drug and alcohol policies and testing procedures. At the same time, the opioid crisis continues to rout communities and is draining employers of talent and productivity dollars, prompting many into action.

What’s an employer to do? That’s the question of the day.

Federal action isn’t clarifying matters much. Earlier this year, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rolled back the 2013 Obama-era Cole memo that essentially relaxed federal enforcement of marijuana law on states that had legalized its use. So far, employers don’t have much detail on how this newly sparked conflict between state and federal law will look.

But on a personal level, social mores on marijuana continue their massive sea change, and in a tight labor market, its now almost a liability in some workplaces to have a zero tolerance policy on drug use, Reidy said. While CEOs still tend to opt for termination over rehabilitation for drug use, the reality is that employers may not be able to afford to do so while recruitment and retention remain a key HR concern.

During the panel, many attendees reported they mandated post-accident drug testing, reasonable suspicion testing and random testing, but Reidy noted that national numbers on all three practices were trending downward. If anything, employers may need to reconsider their drug testing and use policies — both to accommodate changing marijuana law and to reach out to those struggling with addiction.

By the numbers

If an HR manager hasn’t dealt with a drug issue at their workplace yet, its likely they will very soon. According to stats that Reidy shared:

  • 28.6 million people used an illicit drug in the prior month and 24 million of those had used marijuana; and

  • 71% of employers are impacted by prescription drug abuse but 81% of employers lack a comprehensive drug-free workplace policy (though Reidy said he doubts that stat).

Employers are dealing with the whole spectrum of drug use, from …read more