Although still illegal under federal law, more states continue to decriminalize cannabis use across the country. As a result, employers are struggling with how to handle cannabis use by employees. This is particularly true in the healthcare industry, where physicians’ performance may be compromised — and patients’ lives put at risk — by the use of cannabis.
Currently, many physician practices completely prohibit the use of all drugs for physicians. Most of my practice clients require drug tests on new hires and conduct random testing thereafter. Whether this is permitted can be dictated by state laws, which should always be checked. However, because the use of cannabis is now legally permitted on physicians’ own time in many states, physician practices are struggling with whether they should modify existing policies that prohibit the use of any drugs and how to handle cannabis used on physicians’ own time.
Hospitals are also facing a similar dilemma as physicians may test positive for cannabis use, whether medical or recreational, or fail random tests thereafter. Although the typical hospital protocol is to refer physicians who test positive to state physician health programs, the result of such an act can cause physicians to lose their job, face mandatory rehabilitation and potentially impact their medical license.
Unfortunately, there are no national guidelines yet on how cannabis use is best addressed by medical practices or hospitals and whether such use should differ from other types of drug use. Physician practices and hospitals therefore need to be very careful about cannabis use, even if such use is legally permitted in their state.
When my practice clients ask me how to handle physicians use of cannabis, here is what I advise them to consider:
Check the legality
Every state has its own laws regarding the use of cannabis. Physician practices should find out what laws apply in their state and be aware of any changes that may be occurring in the near future.
Review employer protections
In states that do allow the use of cannabis, the laws often specifically address protections for employers. The Illinois Cannabis Act is a good example of this. The Illinois law makes it clear that employers are not required to permit employees to be under the influence of or to use cannabis in the workplace under the Cannabis Act. This would also apply to physicians who are not in the workplace but are on call.
Like Illinois, many other states permit employers to take disciplinary action or terminate employees who violate employment or workplace drug policies. This means that employers do not need to change their view on drug use in the workplace simply because cannabis might be legal. Moreover, most states still allow employers to maintain policies on drug testing, consumption of drugs and even storage or use of marijuana in the workplace, as long as the policies are applied in a nondiscriminatory manner.