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Unsafe in the Workplace: Cannabis Use is a Gateway to High Work Comp Premiums

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), one thing is certain about cannabis in the workplace: it is unsafe to be under the influence of cannabis while working in a safety-sensitive position. NSC reports that cannabis impairment can lead to injury or death for employees under the influence, and impact co-workers.

In California, employees can be fired and escorted off the premises if discovered to be using marijuana.

NSC’s position supports transferring medical marijuana users to non-safety sensitive positions. A “safety-sensitive” position impacts the safety of the employee or others as a result of performing the job. Being under the influence adds another layer of risk.

Ten states, including California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado, have legalized the personal use of marijuana. Another 23 states have decriminalized its use. Three other states allow the use of medical marijuana.

NSC calls for more comprehensive data and research to understand the effects of cannabis products better. While there is substantial anecdotal evidence, the Safety Council says there is not enough research to reach consensus.

For instance, it is known that the amount of THC (the effects of cannabis are largely caused by TetraHydroCannabinol) detectable in the body does not directly correlate to a degree of impairment. The Safety Council advocates that there is no level of cannabis use that is safe or acceptable for employees who work in safety-sensitive positions.

Cannabis affects different people in different ways, including relaxation, sedation, disorientation, impaired judgment, and lack of concentration. It also affects fine motor skills, increased appetite, dry mouth, red eyes, and an elevated heart rate. “These effects contribute to impaired learning, short-term memory, and attention deficits, and delayed decision-making,” the Council says.

According to a study of postal workers reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, employees who tested positive for cannabis had 55% more industrial accidents, 85% more injuries and 75% greater absenteeism compared to workers who tested negative.

The Institute says other studies also suggest or conclude there are specific links between marijuana use and adverse consequences in the workplace.

Even the office isn’t safe from cannabis use. The dangers aren’t limited to a physical accident, such as in construction or manufacturing. There is a significant risk from office workers’ impaired judgment. A bookkeeper or accountant, for instance, a programmer, anyone who has to deal with accuracy may not be able to perform these functins under the influence. Even insurance underwriting judgment could be impacted.

NSC and other organizations also point to increased vehicle collisions from drivers under the influence, as well as hospitalizations and other public health indicators. A study by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area found that the yearly rate of emergency department visits related to marijuana increased 52% after legalization in Colorado. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that police-reported collisions increased more than 5% in the rate of crashes per million vehicle registrations after marijuana was legalized in Colorado, as measured against states where the drug is not legal.

When California passed Proposition 64, (which made recreational use legal) the right of employers to screen or randomly test for marijuana use was not restrained. California courts continue to uphold an employer’s right to terminate employees for testing positive for marijuana. Employers can terminate an employee for marijuana use even if it is done with a valid prescription for a medical condition or disability, according to

So far, California courts have held that employers do not have to make a reasonable accommodation under either the Fair Employment and Housing Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act, for marijuana use, even with a prescription.

An NSC survey earlier this year revealed that 81% of employers are concerned about cannabis having a negative effect on their workplaces. But only 54% said their written policies cover legal use; 24% said they would fire an employee found to be misusing legal cannabis. Only 7% said they would relocate such an employee to a position of lesser responsibility.

Let’s talk soon and take a look at your current policy. I can help develop a plan to make sure you’re covered. Interested in taking the next step? Call or email me today!



Information in this post originally appeared in Workers’ Comp Executive

Recia Shelton