Just like you can’t go to work drunk, you cannot go to work stoned.
Medical and recreational marijuana are now legal in Michigan, but employers retain the right to enforce workplace drug policies, even if they take a zero-tolerance posture. That means companies can still discipline - or even terminate - employees who test positive or show up to work under the influence.
“Yes, it’s legal in the state, but there’s nothing in the law that says it has to be allowed in any way, shape or form in the workplace,” said Maggie McPhee, director of information services at The Employers’ Association in Grand Rapids.
Many employers treat medical marijuana the same way they do pain medications such as Vicodin or Norco. If you use them, you should not drive or operate heavy machinery on the job, said Heather Merrick, a human resources consultant and professional recruiter at Express Employment Professionals of Grand Rapids.
Employers generally view recreational marijuana, which is now legal in Michigan for people 21 and older, the same way as alcohol, Merrick said. Yes, it’s legal, “but it’s not something you’d go to work under the influence of,” she said.
“For employers, not a lot has changed as far as the legalities of marijuana in the workplace,” she said. “What we’re seeing in West Michigan, especially with manufacturing companies, is marijuana is still treated as a substance they’re testing for and it’s still going to be not allowed from an employment standpoint.”
Since marijuana remains illegal under federal law, employers who hold contracts with the federal government are required to test employees for it, Merrick said. Problems could arise in instances where marijuana remains in a person’s system when they’re tested, although they are not under the influence.
“That’s where the confusion comes in when you’re doing pre-employment testing,” Merrick said.
In those situations, a person could still lose their job or have a job offer withdrawn.
A February ruling by the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the ability of employers to withdraw job offers to people who fail a pre-employment drug test, even if they are a legal user of medical marijuana. In a case involving the City of Lansing and its utility, the Lansing Board of Water and Light, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that employers may withdraw a conditional offer from prospective at-will employees.
In another case years earlier, a federal appeals court years upheld the firing of Walmart store employee in Battle Creek who was a cancer patient, used medical marijuana and tested positive.
The lack of available testing to determine if someone is actually under the influence of marijuana puts employers “between a rock and a hard place,” McPhee said. She advises employers to have their supervisors and managers trained in how to identify when someone is under the influence of marijuana.
“If they’re trained in this, they have to know all of the signs and symptoms of being under the influence,” McPhee said.
Following the November approval on a ballot proposal legalizing recreational marijuana in Michigan for people 21 and older, The Employers’ Association in Grand Rapids received numerous calls from members. The HR group urges members to update their personnel policies to add marijuana and reflect the change in state law.
Merrick suggests that policies include repercussions if an employee tests positive or comes to work under the influence of marijuana.