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NSC says no safe cannabis use level for employees in safety-sensitive jobs

A National Safety Council position statement says “there is no level of cannabis use that is safe or acceptable for employees who work in safety sensitive positions,” according to www.constructiondive.com. Therefore, NSC says it supports moving workers who use cannabis for medical purposes to positions that are not safety-sensitive.

NSC says although the amount of THC—the main psychoactive compound in cannabis—detectable in a person’s body does not directly correlate with the impairment level, research indicates cannabis affects psychomotor skills and cognitive ability. The council also said it hopes to become more involved in policy discussions about cannabis impairment and “provide guidance for employers as they navigate changing cannabis laws.”

The NSC’s position statement cites a study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse that shows employees who tested positive for cannabis had 55% more industrial incidents, 85% more injuries and 75% greater absenteeism compared with employees who tested negative.

The statement clarifies that cannabis use remains illegal at the federal level despite being legal in some form in many states, which can pose enforcement challenges for construction firms and other businesses, especially when it comes to employees using medical marijuana for an impairment. Experts recommend employers become familiar with medical marijuana laws that apply to their jurisdictions, review “zero-tolerance” drug policies and focus more on unacceptable behaviors rather than drug test results.

Linda Hollinshead, partner at Duane Morris LLP, says employers had been winning state-law cases brought by employees who were fired or not hired because of cannabis use, but a few recent cases were decided in favor of workers. Although this may not represent a trend, human resources experts say employers should exercise caution with their policies and practices and consult counsel as needed.

In states that have legalized medical marijuana—and in some cases also recreational—employers are having more difficulty finding workers who can pass the usual mandatory drug test during the hiring process. Because of the dangers construction work can present, most employers have a zero-tolerance policy; however, Wendy Lane, attorney for Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP, says some employers might be willing to retest some applicants after enough time has passed for the drug to leave their systems.


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