Times are rapidly changing

Departments - Learn to Lead | Managing your business relationships

Are your policies and procedures up to date?

October 8, 2019

Employers need to update policies and procedures. As long as they aren’t discriminatory, you set the rules for your workplace.

As Bob Dylan said, “The times they are a-changin’.” Who would have believed 10 years ago that marijuana would be legal for recreational purposes in 11 states and Washington, D.C., and for medical use in 33 states, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands?

If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to update your employee policies and procedures. The following are things to consider:

1. You determine what is appropriate for your employees and work place. Although alcohol is legal for individuals over 21, it’s highly unlikely that you allow your team to drink on the job or to work impaired. As an employer, you are legally responsible for maintaining a safe work environment. Stoned employees are particularly problematic in “dangerous jobs” such as manufacturing, heavy machinery and transportation. The bottom line is, as long as they aren’t discriminatory, you set the rules.

2. If prescribed for medical use, you must allow employees to utilize marijuana as specified on the job. While you can ban recreational pot use, you cannot say no to legal, physician-certified medical marijuana usage in the workplace. Medical marijuana is currently prescribed to treat epilepsy, PTSD, Crohn’s disease, nausea, cancer, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain. At the same time, jobs covered by the Department of Transportation explicitly forbid the utilization of pot and other drugs that might impair safety and job performance.

3. Reevaluate the purpose of your drug-testing program. Many employers use drug testing as a prerequisite for hiring. You are still entitled to do that. However, you might want to consider your reasons for drug testing. Are you looking for drug use and impairment, or to see if an individual willingly breaks the law? With alcohol, tests show what is currently in the body. Traces of marijuana, however, can cause failed urine tests for 30 to 45 days. If you desire a drug-free workforce, random drug testing is considered the most effective deterrent of employee workplace drug use.

4. High cost of drug and alcohol impairment. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace causes 65% of on-the-job accidents. Furthermore, 38% to 50% of all workers’ compensation claims are related to alcohol and drugs in the workplace. According to the University of Massachusetts, the following are signs that an employee may have a drug or alcohol problem:


  • Abrupt declines in attendance, quality and output of work
  • General attitude changes and/or irritability
  • Withdrawal from responsibility
  • Decline in physical appearance and grooming
  • Difficulty with concentration and/or memory
  • Impaired performance — such as errors in judgment — affecting the quality of work or endangering safety
  • Wearing of sunglasses at inappropriate times to hide dilated or constricted pupils
  • A change in the employee’s social group, and possibly an association with known substance abusers
  • Unusual borrowing of money from friends and coworkers
  • Requests for leave around payday
  • Theft of small items from the workplace
  • Excessive breaks during the workday

Read more from UMass on addressing employee substance abuse here

While the times are definitely changing, employee safety and productivity directly impact your bottom line. As you evaluate your drug and alcohol policies: determine what is important, create and communicate clear policies, and provide ongoing training and resources for employees and supervisors.

Dr. Sherene McHenry, The People IQ Expert™, works with organizations who want to improve their people skills so they can increase engagement, productivity and profitability. Learn more at sherenemchenry.com.