Drug testing still seen as vital as laws evolveLooser attitudes toward marijuana use should not prompt a loosening of drug-testing policies, advocates say.
Medical marijuana might be allowed in Pennsylvania, but its impact on the workplace is unknown, creating concern among observers who say that job-based drug testing is more important now than ever.
Medical marijuana legitimately helps some workers, said David N. Taylor, president of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association in Harrisburg. But overall attitudes toward marijuana laws might lull other workers into thinking it’s OK to ingest the drug because consequences might not seem as severe as they were just a few years ago, Taylor said.
That thinking will lead such workers to the unemployment line, he said. And it is a potentially disastrous trend for manufacturers, who must keep drug testing to protect both employers and employees.
Factories and manufacturing facilities are full of dangers, from navigating high-voltage areas to using heavy equipment to operating complex tools that require precision skills, such as welding, he said.
“People can get hurt, or, God forbid, killed,” he said. “There is a legal and moral obligation to protect workers.”
Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, said most manufacturers retain zero-tolerance policies for drug use. The only way to monitor that remains pre-employment and post-employment drug testing.
The chamber raised concerns before the adoption of the new medical marijuana laws about how to handle the drug’s use at work, Barr said.
“A lot more thought needs to be given to it,” Barr said. “We need to make sure that there are some more protections.”
Taylor said issues of insurability and liability probably will be resolved as problems arise and as courts hear civil suits. That will take time and, expose both workers and employers to dangers in the meantime. The cost to the bottom line could be high, he added.
In a nation divided these days by many different issues, Taylor said, drug testing and drug-free workplaces should be a rallying point. He maintains that a quarter to a third of the workforce either cannot pass a drug test or pulls out of the application process to avoid tests. That situation comes at a time of great demand for skilled factory workers, he said.
“Having impaired people in the workplace is absolutely unacceptable. I would really hope this would be one of the rare consensus points,” Taylor said.
Stephen Herzenberg, the executive director of the Keystone Research Center, said he is skeptical that a large percentage of the workforce couldn’t pass a drug test. Logic would suggest, however, that the percentage might go up as the unemployment rates drop and the pool of workers thins out.
“When unemployment is lower, you would expect a higher percentage wouldn’t pass,” he said.
Nonetheless, Herzenberg added, he agrees a sober workforce is imperative.
“It is not a good idea to have people who are high,” he said.
Drug use extends beyond marijuana and toward the national opioid epidemic, Barr said. Some communities have been so devastated by the opioid crisis that employers need to look outside their communities for workers, he said.
As communities deal with the problems, Taylor said, manufacturers must stay focused on ensuring a drug-free workplace, where hazards include dangerous industrial chemicals, sharp blades and continuously moving machinery.
“Employers should not be put in a position of being exposed to all this,” Taylor said. “We don’t want people to get hurt or killed, and we don’t want to get sued.”