Legal Marijuana Poses Workers’ Comp Challenges for Staffing Firms

With many states decriminalizing marijuana, employers are grappling with how to respond to changing attitudes about the drug among current and prospective employees. The high turnover and constant need for fresh recruits of temporary staffing businesses puts them on the front line of this evolving landscape. Every firm needs to be clear about how marijuana use among employees can affect its workers’ compensation costs.

The legal and cultural status of marijuana is quite complicated. It is still a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act, making its use or possession a federal crime. States have gone against the federal rule by legalizing the medical use of marijuana and, more recently, the recreational use as well. These changes come in a context of changing social mores regarding marijuana use in general. Some employers are finding that their employees expect to have the option of using marijuana while off duty without risk of losing their jobs—or their workers’ compensation benefits.

State decriminalization of marijuana intersects with workers’ compensation in important ways. Many insurers grant premium discounts to employers that implement and enforce a drug-free workplace. Depending on where the employer and employee are located, an employer may have few restrictions on enforcing such a policy, even against employees who use marijuana under a doctor’s valid prescription. But some states have started to require insurers to cover prescribed medical marijuana and are also giving patients protection against employment discrimination.

For employers that want to maintain a drug-free work environment these changes present challenges. Risk management programs may need to be modified to provide avenues for affected employees to continue to work while minimizing their exposure to circumstances where the influence of marijuana could expose them to a heightened risk of injury.

In states where no legal protections have been granted to users of medical marijuana, and where recreational use is legal, a workers’ compensation carrier may be allowed to reject or significantly reduce the amount paid on the claim of an individual who is found to have been under the influence at the time of an injury. Some states allow an employer to overcome these challenges by proving that the employee’s use of marijuana was not related to the injury, but this option clearly involves costs that an employer would rather not face.

Given the complexity of these issues, staffing firms should consult with their employment attorneys, risk management advisors, and workers’ compensation carriers to develop clear policies regarding employee use of marijuana. From a workers’ comp perspective, a policy should aim to minimize the risk of employee injuries. Generally speaking, the best course is to prohibit marijuana use to the fullest extent allowed, but every employer must decide for itself whether it is willing to accept the risk of a lower standard to accommodate the off-work preferences of its employees.

Gunnin is following the evolving circumstances of marijuana in the workplace. We specialize in serving the risk management needs of the temporary staffing industry. If you have questions about how decriminalized marijuana may affect your business’s risk, call us today.

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Gunnin’s team is standing by to help businesses find new and better ways to tackle their risk management challenges. Contact us today to find out how we can make your firm’s workers’ compensation program do more.