Prepare your company: Don’t let the potential of legal weed choke your business

Any reasonable reading of the data should have led voters to reject the approach to legalization of marijuana on the ballot. The passing of Issue 3 would mean an oligopoly of 10 farms for growing marijuana; a marked increase in positive marijuana drug test rates, traffic fatalities, teen and preteen use and workplace accidents in “legal” states; lower workplace productivity and higher absenteeism; and higher turnover for workers that use marijuana.

But with more than $30 million to spend and the promise of a billion-dollar market for Issue 3 campaign investors, legalized marijuana is the latest threat to your ability to manage your workplace. For a business with a big internal legal and human resource team, this may just be business as usual. But for the vast majority of businesses, the costs and implications are a lot scarier. Whether or not Issue 3 was approved on Nov. 3, there are a few steps you should take.

Take action

Get your policy manual in shape. If you have a policy manual, it probably does not address marijuana specifically. A strong statement of zero tolerance for substance abuse and impairment on the job is your first layer of defense. Being clear about a prohibition on any state or federally controlled substances and any substance that could impair performance (including prescription drugs), gives you the most protection as an employer. It’s your right and your responsibility to set clear policy for your business.

Put testing protocols and substance use expectations in place. Being clear with employees that getting tested for use and impairment are part of the employment contract. Periodic, incident-based or random testing should all be enabled by your policy. Conduct pre-employment and new employee testing for illegal and legal substances that could be a problem. Also have an accident response plan that includes follow-up testing in any situation where impairment could be a factor.

Prepare to stand by your policies. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration gives employers liability to maintain a safe working environment. We know marijuana and other types of drugs that impair make the workplace less safe. You need to demonstrate you took reasonable steps to protect your employees from substance abusers.

Proactive steps

Consider an employee assistance program to help first-time offenders, and to help you salvage some of your training costs. Put a little money away to settle or fight claims. The average marijuana claim is a $70,000 to $110,000 drain on your resources. Any employer could end up as the test case for these new Ohio rules.

Keep your peers and advisers close. Your lawyer, trade organizations and peer groups are the best resources to provide advice and keep you informed on what is emerging and how to respond. Share your concerns and your ideas. In an increasingly difficult policy environment for business, we’ve got to do a better job helping each other achieve growth and success.

Issue 3 is clearly bad policy. But, not taking the cue to get prepared for the impact on your business is worse.

Steve Millard is president and executive director of COSE, the Council of Smaller Enterprises. For the last 15 years, Steve has guided COSE’s work to support the success of small business owners and act as a nonpartisan advocate and resource for their needs on the state and national levels.