The FBI Is Thinking of Dropping Its Pot Policy. Should You?
The Federal Bureau of Investigation would seem to be one of the last employers to rethink its drug-testing requirements. But that's exactly what it's doing.
The FBI is considering loosening its marijuana usage rules, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. Note, it isn't thinking about throwing them away altogether, just loosening them from the current three-year look-back period.
The reason is that the FBI is having trouble recruiting people when it limits itself to those who are squeaky clean. Preemployment drug testing is often standard at companies for many, if not all, positions. It's another check box on the preemployment form, along with a background check. But should that change? Should your company drop drug testing? Or exclude marijuana from reports?
Here are five questions to ask yourself before you revise your drug-testing policies:
1. Are you required to test by law? If your business is involved in transportation, for instance, you need to continue to test for drugs, including marijuana. Even if this wasn't required by law, it's going to hit you square in the pocketbook for liability should one of your employees crash her truck and then test positive for marijuana. It's hard to claim you did due diligence when you didn't have a preemployment drug test.
2. Would testing violate the law? Testing, itself, doesn't violate the law. Companies can set their own drug policies. However, acting on those tests can violate laws, but not how you might think. Even in Colorado, where recreational pot use is legal for those 21 and older, you can set your own drug policies and fire and not hire based on legal drug usage. But what about medical marijuana? Some states with legal medical marijuana specifically offer employment protection to users; others don't. So, when a drug test comes back positive for pot, you need to know if it's for medical use, and if it is, what the law is in your state.
3. Is this a necessary expense for your company? If your business involves transportation, heavy machinery, access to narcotics, medical care, or anything involving safety, the answer is a resounding yes. But if your employees are going to sit in cubes and type things on computers and have meetings involving pizza and brownies (the normal kind), you can ask yourself this question. Not every company does drug testing.
4. What are your competitors doing? The FBI is losing out on great candidates because of its long look-back period. I don't know of any private company that does anything further than drug testing (urine or hair, for a longer look back) and looking at convictions, so shortening your look-back period is probably a moot point. But if your competitors aren't requiring drug tests, and you're losing candidates because of it, you might want to rethink. You can, of course, continue to test for other substances and give marijuana a pass. It's not an all-or-nothing situation.
5. Is recreational marijuana use among employees a big deal? Obviously, voters in Colorado and Washington don't think so. Others may think differently. After all, in the other 48 states, recreational marijuana usage is illegal, and you may not want anyone on staff who has a problem violating even minor laws. This is perfectly logical. You may want to ensure your staff is always clearheaded, and the best way to ensure that is to have a drug-free work force. Of course, remember that alcohol can be a bigger problem than marijuana and is perfectly legal.
SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist
Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.