Question for HR: If Pot Is Legal, Can Employees Still Get in Trouble?

Johnny Taylor Jr., a human-resources expert, tackled a marijuana-related question as part of a series for USA Today. Taylor is the president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest HR professional society.

Question: How does an employer effectively balance corporate policies of a drug-free workplace with the legalization of marijuana becoming more common, both for recreational and prescription use? — Mila S.

Answer: Marijuana use by employees (in or out of the workplace) is a complex issue given that many states have legalized medical and recreational weed. On one hand, the employee should be allowed to do what she wants to do on her private time. On the other hand, employers have an obligation to put safety first.

Imagine if a commercial airline pilot who lives in a state where marijuana is legal decides to smoke a joint a couple of hours before reporting to work. While his state allows him the "right" to consume marijuana, the airline has an "obligation" to ensure that the person transporting 200-plus people 30,000 feet in the air is not under the influence.

As if this weren't complicated enough, we often forget marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and drug testing can detect marijuana in an employee's system but it cannot yet determine whether the person is impaired.

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