Employers Have Little Tolerance of Marijuana Use by Workers, SHRM Survey Finds

Where pot is legal, most HR professionals say organizations have formal substance use policies

Dec 14, 2015
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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Medical or recreational use of marijuana is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia, but employers in those locations continue to have a zero-tolerance policy about the drug’s use in the workplace, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found in a survey of HR professionals.

In the most extensive survey of employer policies and practices since states began legalizing marijuana, SHRM found that most survey respondents (94 percent) said their organization has a formal, written substance use policy.

Eighty-two percent of respondents whose organizations have operations in states where both recreational and medical use are legal said they have zero tolerance for use while working — marijuana use is not permitted for any reason. Eleven percent said exceptions are made for medical use, but that restrictions might apply.

“While marijuana use is legal in some states, it remains illegal under federal law,” said Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of survey programs. “Substance use, disciplinary and hiring policies are all influenced by employers’ limited tolerance of marijuana use.”

In October, SHRM polled 623 randomly selected HR professionals in 19 states where medical marijuana is legal and four states and the District of Columbia where medical and recreational use are legal. The survey has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

More than one-third of respondents said employees at their organizations violated marijuana use policies in the past 12 months, with 4 percent of those respondents saying they had more than 10 violations during that time.

Most substance use policies include consequences for violating the policy. For a first-time violation of marijuana use policies, termination was the most frequent action taken, cited by 50 percent of respondents in states where medical marijuana is legal and 41 percent of respondents whose organizations have operations in locations where both recreational and medical marijuana are legal.

Under federal and most state laws, employers can refuse to hire marijuana users. In states where recreational use is legal, 44 percent of respondents said they do not hire recreational users.

The Policies for Marijuana Use in the Workplace survey provided other details:

  • About one-half of respondents said their organizations conduct pre-employment drug testing for marijuana use for all job candidates, primarily after extending a contingent job offer. About two-fifths of respondents said their employees could be tested for marijuana use when circumstances warrant it, and more than one-quarter of respondents said all employees could be tested any time during their employment.
  • 29 percent of respondents in locations where recreational and medical marijuana use are legal said they had modified their substance use policy since legalization; 37 percent indicated that their policy is now more restrictive in the disciplinary action taken for marijuana use.

“HR professionals in states where marijuana is legal for both recreational and medical use tended to have stricter policies in place than those where only medical marijuana is legal,” Esen said.

The full survey is available online at www.shrm.org/Research/SurveyFindings/Pages/Policies-for-Marijuana-Use-in-the-Workplace.aspx.

For additional information, visit SHRM’s Marijuana and the Workplace Resource Page.

Media: For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Kate Kennedy of SHRM Media Relations at 703-535-6260 and Kate.Kennedy@shrm.org or Vanessa Gray at 703-535-6072 and Vanessa.Gray@shrm.org.

About the Society for Human Resource Management
Founded in 1948, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest HR membership organization devoted to human resource management. Representing more than 275,000 members in over 160 countries, the Society is the leading provider of resources to serve the needs of HR professionals and advance the professional practice of human resource management. SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the United States and subsidiary offices in China, India and United Arab Emirates. Visit SHRM Online at shrm.org and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @SHRMPress.

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