Getting High on the Job: What About Remote Workers?

We live in a time when millions of Americans are working from home. The line between personal lives and professional lives is blurrier than ever. Add to that the fact that not only has marijuana use been broadly legalized, but it’s also more commonplace than ever. So, what does this mean for your employees and their at-home habits while they’re on the clock? Are they allowed to get high while they’re working for you? How much say do you have over this? Let’s explore!

Wait, Are Employees Really Getting High While Working?

According to one survey by Blind, yes! In fact, roughly one-third of survey participants admitted to using cannabis at work. Other research tells us that 15% of remote employees worked from home while under the influence of marijuana during the COVID-19 pandemic. For some, it’s recreational. Others say that it actually helps them perform their jobs better and helps to reduce stress, boost creativity, and improve productivity.

Employee working from home

A lot of people smoke or otherwise consume marijuana because it makes them feel more relaxed and happy, so… is it really a bad thing if your employees are getting high while working? Well, yes, it certainly could be.

The Importance of Maintaining a Drug-Free Workplace

We might like to think that cannabis is harmless because it comes from nature. But that doesn’t mean it’s totally safe to consume — especially while working (whether that’s from home or the office). One study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that employees who tested positive for marijuana had 85% more injuries, 75% more absenteeism, and 55% more industrial accidents, compared to employees who tested negative. Marijuana use hurt productivity, increased turnover, led to more lawsuits, and increased worker compensation and unemployment compensation claims.

Everyone responds to drugs differently. So, we have to acknowledge that getting high on the job is like gambling. You won’t ever truly know what you’re going to get. Your remote workers, while under the influence, could feel less stressed, but they could also make more mistakes and produce half the amount of work that they otherwise would.

This is why it’s so important to keep drugs out of the workplace — even if the workplace is a home office.

So I Can Drug Test My Remote Workers?

Yes, you can drug test remote workers. It might seem weird, considering they’re in the privacy of their own homes. However, they’re on the clock and getting paid for that time. A lot of this comes down to your drug-free workplace policy. (If you don’t currently have one, you should get one immediately!) This policy outlines details like:

  • What substances you screen for (marijuana, opiates, cocaine, alcohol, etc.).
  • When you test (pre-employment, at random, upon reasonable suspicion, post-accident, before returning to duty, etc.).
  • Your screening method (urine drug testing, hair drug testing, breathalyzer, etc.).
  • What happens if an employee tests positive for drugs or alcohol. (Will they be fired, suspended, etc.?)
  • What happens if an employee refuses to take a test.
  • What kind of support you offer, if any, should an employee test positive. (For example, do you get them support in the form of counseling or outpatient rehab?)

Your policy is a must for you, your business entity, and your employees. It benefits both you and them. With a policy, you’ll be very clear on what the expectations are, so that you and your employees are always on the same page.

workplace meeting with employees

You also want to make it as easy as possible for your employees to get screened. For example, eNational offers employment screening and has more than 4,000 locations across the United States. There are a variety of drug tests, including a number of panels (4, 5, 10, and so on), hair drug testing, and urine drug testing. You can order a test online in just a few clicks, and your employees can go to the testing center most convenient for them.

Finally, consider appointing someone on your staff as your designated employer representative (DER). This individual is responsible for helping you run and maintain your drug-free workplace program so that you, as the employer, don’t have to do all of it by yourself. Bear in mind that this needs to be a current employer with a defined role — not someone who you hire specifically to be your DER.

Consider a Workplace Wellness Program, Too

With these types of programs, you incentivize and reward employees for making good choices and maintaining healthy habits. Workplace wellness programs commonly help employees with things like quitting smoking, losing weight, and getting their diabetes under control. You can also look for ways to support your employees to stay drug-free and reward them when they do so.

Talk to your insurance provider to see what kind of programs they offer. If you don’t see something you like — or they’re out of your budget — you can always come up with your own.

Keeping Your Workplace — Even Home Offices — Substance-Free

One of the best things you can do to ensure your business stays substance-free is to maintain an open line of communication. Meet with all new employees before they start working — and with current employees throughout the year — to go over your drug-free workplace policy and any incentives you offer for employees who make smart and healthy choices. Make it easy for them to submit their questions or concerns (perhaps anonymously!) so that everyone feels heard, acknowledged, and appreciated. Open, clear, and consistent communication is part of being an effective leader.

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Jonathan Baktari MD

Jonathan Baktari, MD brings over 20 years of clinical, administrative and entrepreneurial experience to lead the current e7 Health team. He has been a triple board-certified physician with specialties in internal medicine, pulmonary and critical care medicine. He has been the Medical Director of The Valley Health Systems, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Culinary Health Fund and currently is the CEO of two healthcare companies.
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