What you need to know about testing employees for marijuana

HR departments must be aware of the legal issues surrounding drug testing and medical marijuana.

HR departments must be aware of the legal issues surrounding drug testing and medical marijuana.

Does your workplace issue drug tests? If so, it's time to get familiar with the laws regarding testing for marijuana usage, as changes over the years have made the process and legalities different in certain states. 

NPR reports that over a third of employers have policies in place for drug testing. However as medical marijuana has become increasingly legalized, it is essential that HR departments everywhere stay informed about the subject. 

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, marijuana has been decriminalized in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Additionally, marijuana may be used recreationally in two states: Washington and Colorado. However, although these states have issued decriminalization edicts, according to federal law, the drug is still illegal. 

While marijuana is decriminalized in certain places, this does not mean that employees can come to work under the influence, whether it's of marijuana, alcohol or any other drug. 

However, some employees use marijuana for medical purposes, and penalizing them for the presence of the drug could carry serious legal consequences. NPR reported on the case of a Colorado medical marijuana user who worked for Dish Network. He was fired from the company after failing a drug test, and has since sued Dish in a case that has ended up in front of Colorado's Supreme Court. 

It is advisable for HR departments to ensure that drug policies are up-to-date to reflect compliance with the laws in their state. For employers that operate out of more than one state, this issue can become complex. In any case, it is essential to be aware that the way marijuana use is handled has the potential to result in a lawsuit. An effective HR system can help departments ensure they are in compliance with current laws.