As the landscape on medical marijuana use evolves and the opioid epidemic grows, employers are facing a number challenges in how to handle compliance and costs with these drugs.

From recruitment to retention, employers looking to find and retain top-tier talent while maintaining a safe and productive work environment continues to be a real struggle, said James Reidy a shareholder with the New Hampshire-based law firm Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green. In addition to relaxed marijuana laws in many states, the opioid crisis has had a significant impact on the workplace.

For multi-state employers, setting up a policy can be tricky, as 30 states and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana in some form, and eight of those states, as well as the district, have legalized the drug for recreational use.

Workplace marijuana policies are a "brewing storm" between federal and many state governments, and this could lead many employers to just remove marijuana from the list of unacceptable drugs to avoid losing young talent, Reidy said.

“Employers must balance the need to hire good employees with the need to maintain a safe workplace. Can you afford not to hire individuals who use marijuana?” he asked, speaking at the Society for Human Resource Management’s Law and Legislative Conference in Washington,

While there are some advantages to drug testing, such as reduced health insurance costs and a minimized risk in workplace violence, there are some disadvantages employers should note.

For example, privacy concerns could arise, Reidy noted. He cited Williams v. FedEx, a case where a former FedEx employee alleged that his former employer violated the ADA by discriminating against him based on his actual and perceived disabilities, and requiring his enrollment in the company’s substance abuse and drug testing program.

Additionally, there are chances of false negatives or false positives, and employers cannot always determine impairment from marijuana, he cautioned.

He says marijuana is a big business and will only get bigger – with sales in the billions of dollars in Colorado, for example.

While marijuana can be tricky to deal with, another major disruptor for employers is the opioid crisis spreading across the country.

One in five workplace injuries and near misses were caused by the misuse of prescription drugs, he said, and employers in the U.S. lose more than $12 billion each year due to opioid abuse by employees.

Some employers are looking at a proactive two-prong approach to prevent opioid abuse, he said.

First, employers need to educate employees on the risk of abuse and addiction. Second, employers need to teach workers alternative methods of pain management, such as exercise, mediation, acupuncture, etc.

He also offers some steps to take in updating workplace abuse policies:

· Partner with insurance carrier, medical provider and EAP providers.
· Reevaluate existing drug and alcohol policies. “If you haven’t updated your plan in the past two years, you ought to,” he said. “Particularly with respect to state laws and possible changes in your company culture.”
· Educate supervisors and employees.
· Ensure confidential access to help and treatment.
Maintain medical and health records as confidential.

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