Legal marijuana raises questions for Oregon employers

Smoking pot in Oregon could cost you your job

PORTLAND, Ore. -- It's about to become legal to smoke pot in Oregon, but be warned: Firing up can still get you fired.

Oregon's new relaxed stance on marijuana is creating confusion among workers and their bosses. Vicky Davies manages 40 employees at her catering business, GP Kitchen. Marijuana and how to deal with more customers and employees using it is at the top of her mind.

"We'll have clientele and employees who will be potentially taking advantage of the situation," said Davies.

"There's no one-size-fits-all policy," said labor employment attorney Kyle Abraham with Barran Liebman, LLP. He's helping employers through the transition and says the biggest thing to know is that legally, employees get no new protections under Oregon's recreational marijuana law.

If your employer tests for cannabis and you test positive, you can still be fired on the spot.

"It's really going to be a case-by-case basis for employers to decide when and if they want to test employees," said Abraham.

Many employers have no choice but to test for cannabis. It's still against federal law, which also requires random drug testing for transportation workers like truck drivers, train engineers and pilots.

Professions where safety is a concern, like construction and manufacturing jobs, also routinely test workers for cannabis use. None of that is expected to change in Oregon.

"A majority of employers are very concerned," said Deborah Jeffries with HR Answers, an Oregon firm that handles human resources for more than 600 companies. She says employers in Oregon do have the right to look the other way when it comes to pot testing, but she says most employers are sticking with federal guidelines based on concerns that increased marijuana use could create unsafe workplaces.

Oregon's fast-growing web development industry might be an exception.

"It does make us far more creative," jokes Jason Yee. He's among a growing number of web programmers moving to start up tech companies in Portland. To attract the best and most creative talent, many tech companies already provide local beers on tap at work. However, since the workplace is considered a public place, Oregon's new law prevents pot from showing up in work lunchrooms like draft beer. However, most web programmers don't have to worry about failing pot tests, because they know their employers won't test them.

While the new law makes recreational marijuana part of the fabric of life in Oregon, employers still have every right to keep a drug-free workplace.


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