As marijuana continues to creep into acceptance in America, users of cannabis products are beginning to celebrate. Yet there’s still another wrinkle looming ahead. And it may turn out to be a tsunami-sized wrinkle. Just because you can legally obtain marijuana now doesn’t mean that you won’t lose your job because of its use. If your employer doesn’t have random drug screenings, you can still count on one as part of the hiring process. And you can most certainly count on one if you have an accident at work.
You’ve probably already heard the story of the Oregon news reporter, Cyd Maurer, who lost her job due to a positive drug screen for marijuana use. The test was required as she’d had a minor fender bender in a company car. The TV station she worked for didn’t want to let her go – she was good at her job. But because of the failed drug test, they were left with the choice to let her go or lose their insurance carrier. Employees are easier to find than insurance companies. She was fired.
If you search all the way down the line, you’ll find evidence that the big insurance companies are the main reason that marijuana use, no matter when or where it occurs, will likely never be accepted in the workplace. While standing on their gilded soapbox preaching how they are keeping the masses safe in a world ruled by chaos, it’s really about keeping their bottom line in the black.
This is why if you’re involved in a workplace accident, along with a band aid, you will likely be handed a cup to pee in; possibly under the close observation of a complete stranger. And if there’s the slightest trace of an illegal substance in your system, all investigation stops there. According to the company, you broke your ankle because you were on drugs. No further explanation is necessary.
I use the ankle example as I’ve witnessed it firsthand. A coworker and I were headed to lunch one day. Repairs were being done on the roof of the building we worked in. For some reason, a puddle of water had collected at the bottom of the outside stairs and froze, as it was bitterly cold. Neither of us saw it and had no reason to believe it would be there on a dry, sunny day. He slipped and went down. I almost did but caught myself at the last second.
He’d broken his ankle and couldn’t walk. So he limped back inside and began the journey through the workplace injury process. Almost immediately he was handed a cup for a urine sample and then taken to the hospital for treatment. The fracture of his ankle meant his extended absence from work. However, a few days after the accident, it was announced that he had been terminated. No reason was given as the company “couldn’t talk about it.” However, a phone call to him later revealed that he had tested positive for THC. He had tested a whopping .0003 over the limit. But that didn’t matter, as our company had a “zero tolerance” policy.
He wasn’t informed of his termination in person. He received a letter in the mail that notified him he’d been fired and was no longer allowed on company property. This man had worked for this company for 20 years. He was the genius of our department, as well as a valuable company asset. His possessions were gathered for him by company security and he was unceremoniously exiled to the land of unemployment. As a final groin kick, he was also informed that the company was not liable for his injury. Skipping to the happy ending, he sued them and won. But it did take 4 years and a pocket full of money.
The ignorance of this drug policy showed itself again when they began looking for employees to replace him. It seems they needed 3 people to do the work of the 1 person they’d fired. The so-called “drug addict” had gained many responsibilities in his 20 years of employment. But the company couldn’t seem to find one, let alone three people to replace him. I asked an authority figure why it was taking so long to find his replacements. He confided in me that the company was doing hair tests to keep from “hiring any more drug addicts.”
It took them almost 5 months, during which our department worked constant overtime due to a lack of personnel, before they found their 100% drug-free new hires. If these specimens were the examples of drug-free American labor, then the whole drug policy needs to be rethought, immediately. While trying not to sound too judgmental, it soon became clear that these clean-living workers couldn’t pour piss out of a boot with the instructions written on the heel.
The simple truth is that drug tests alone do not prove impairment. They merely detect that, at some undetermined point in time, you’ve done drugs. They can’t say exactly when you did them or if they have any lingering effect on you. The bright young college grad who smoked a joint with his friends last weekend may well find himself marginalized in the job market. But the graduate who went on a 3 day drunken bender will get by the peeing in the cup test just fine. Still, few industries are willing to acknowledge this discrimination. It is the pervasive attitude that anyone who does any kind of “illegal” drug will be marginalized, and they deserve to be, as they are a danger to all around them.
There is a subtle change looming on the drug test horizon. Some companies are beginning to use impairment testing. It’s cheaper and less invasive of individual privacy than urine or hair tests. It also gives more of a real-time example of an employee’s ability to do a job safely. These tests use various methods to measure awareness, hand/eye coordination, reaction times and other signs that may signify you aren’t at your best.
But this new way of testing may be opening a can of worms that wasn’t intended. It seems that pot smokers aren’t the only ones who are impaired. Companies that have tried impairment testing have found that some employees, who had no presence of drugs in their system, were still showing signs of being impaired. At least according to the battery of tests they had undergone. It was found that “impairment” also occurred due to fatigue, stress and a host of other job-related, non-drug factors. That’s not surprising, considering Americans have been subject to longer hours and less free time in the quest to keep stockholders happy.
So, without realizing it, has American industry just proven that we are all impaired simply because we work for them? Personally, if given a choice of impairment, I’d take anything cannabis related as opposed to stress or fatigue – which happens to be two conditions that cannabis products are known to help. An interesting correlation, to say the least.
If you’re going to be impaired, you should at least get to enjoy it.