Is Your Contracting Business’s Substance Use Policy Due for an Overhaul?

Minimizing the use of substances that affect people’s ability to operate construction equipment seems to make sense at the construction site. In reality, it’s a mess of conflicting guidelines. For example, at the federal level, marijuana is still illegal. At the state level, it may be approved for recreational use. This creates a situation that can be tricky to navigate. Zero tolerance used to seem like an easy practice to implement, but it’s not always legal to enforce. Here’s a few things you should consider when setting a policy concerning substance use in your contracting business.

Understand the Law
If you want to know the latest California laws concerning the growth, sale and use of cannabis, you’ve got to check back on a regular basis. The California state government has passed or refined legislation concerning what people are allowed to do with marijuana every year since 2015. At present, adults over age 21 are allowed to produce and consume cannabis products in the state. There are limitations on how, where and when they can do this.

Federal vs. State Regulations
Although many states have relaxed their laws related to the sale or consumption of cannabis, it’s still illegal at the federal level. This is more of an issue of enforcement, depending on who’s calling the shots. For example, the Obama administration directed federal agencies to ease up on enforcing federal drug policies in states that had legalized marijuana for medicinal or adult use. The Trump administration rescinded that in 2018. It remains to be seen how the federal government will take action concerning this conflict in laws.

Medicinal vs. Adult Use
The way you set substance use policies depends greatly on the reason employees might be using it. With recreational use, you’re not obligated to allow people to smoke or consume cannabis products while they’re on the clock. In that way, it’s similar to a policy you might set for alcohol consumption.

Medicinal use is a different matter entirely. Employers are bound by law not to discriminate against employees for health concerns or treatment for conditions. And considering that marijuana may be prescribed to treat conditions ranging from injury to chronic pain and cancer, you could encounter people with a legitimate prescription for medicinal marijuana at any time. This means that you might not legally be able to enforce a zero-tolerance drug policy, even if that seems the easiest path to take. If you’re not sure what to do, consulting a lawyer who specializes in human resources policies may be a worthwhile investment.

Make Safety Paramount
Instead of putting yourself at risk for discrimination, it may be a good time to rethink your substance use policy. In construction, marijuana use for any reason can be a serious risk to life and limb. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that workers who test positive for cannabis are more likely to be involved in accidents or receive injuries while on the job. As an employer, you may need to evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis. It might not make sense to test people for cannabis that they may consume in their off-hours anymore. But you definitely need them sober and attentive while they’re operating heavy machinery or in a dangerous area of the jobsite, for their own safety and yours.

Consider Flexible Job Requirements
If you want to hire an employee who needs to use marijuana in a medicinal context, it may help to consider creating some flexibility in job requirements for all positions. People working in a small business tend to fill several roles at the same time anyway. You can reduce your risk of problems by acknowledging that people may have a legal reason for using cannabis, and helping them find a way to accommodate it. This way, you aren’t putting them, yourself or your projects at risk.

Creating substance use policies that work with the changing times is just one part of running a contracting business. Getting a solid grounding in the various aspects of your field is another. For more information about how our programs can help you get started, contact CSLS today!

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