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Last Word: A Telling Survey About Whether Managers Will Hire Cannabis Users

Here’s something that might have gotten lost in the usual end-of-the-year scramble: Employers are a lot tougher on employees in states where marijuana is completely legal.

We know this because the Society of Human Resource Management — the trade group for more than 260,000 HR professionals — surveyed more than 600 HR managers in states where marijuana is legal, and they focused on the drug policies of the organizations they work for. 

As Bloomberg News reported, “Unsurprisingly, getting stoned at work is largely frowned upon, SHRM found …. It turns out a large chunk of workplaces also won’t hire employees who smoke on their own time.”

The story goes on to say that, “More than half of the HR managers surveyed said they have policies, or plan to implement them, restricting the employment of marijuana users. About 38 percent said they will flat-out reject users even if they claim medical reasons. Six percent said their policy will exclude only those who partake for fun.”

It really comes down to this:

There is what I consider to be a significant number of employers that are saying they wouldn’t hire an employee that uses marijuana,” said Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of survey programs.”

The timing of the release of this survey was unfortunate because it deserved to get a lot more attention than it got by coming out right before the Christmas holidays.

What struck me about research is that it is probably just the first of many surveys that we’ll see indicating that there is little tolerance among employers to hire — or put up with — employees who use cannabis, either for medical or recreational purposes.

But, is anyone really surprised by that?

OK, maybe the medical marijuana part is surprising, but my guess is that an employee who is sick enough to need medical marijuana has probably talked to their employer about what is going on with their health in some depth and may have come to some sort of accommodation with the boss about that.

What didn’t surprise me, however, was the fact that employers don’t want to hire people who are marijuana users any more than they want to hire those who admit to serious consumption of alcohol.

As someone who has hired a great many people over a great many years, I’ve never found a manager who was comfortable hiring someone they knew was a big drinker and consumer of alcohol. They rightly assumed that this would cause a problem for them if this person was working for them.

What bothers me more about the SHRM survey is the notion that employers need to know information like this.

I honestly don’t want to know a whole lot about what people do when they are off work, and once we go down the road where we do care about such things, well, there’s no end to the kind of moralizing that will enter into our workplace hiring decisions.

Although I don’t drink very much personally, I don’t have a problem with people who imbibe more often and with more gusto. The only time it becomes a problem is when they bring the drinking into the workplace in some manner to the point that I need to deal with it as a manager.

The same is true of marijuana use. Who cares how much an employee uses marijuana in their spare time as long as it doesn’t impact their work?

I know, I know; casual use of alcohol or marijuana can spin out of control pretty easily, and I get that. But, the problem I have with factoring off-duty use of such substances into the workforce equation is that it is focus on what people might do on the job rather than what they actually do on the job.

I consider marijuana in the same way I consider alcohol — be careful with it when you’re off, and don’t use it before you come to work.

The SHRM survey makes it clear that too many hiring managers aren’t at that point just yet. As more legalization comes, they will surely need to adjust their thinking.

Marijuana is legal for recreational use in the nation’s capital and four states, including Colorado. In almost 20 others, it’s allowed for medicinal purposes.


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