Smoking pot on the clock gets another look

December 19, 2012

MSN Money

Say you live in Colorado or Washington state, and are at your company’s Christmas party. While drinking is banned during working hours, management bends the rules during holiday events and people are enjoying themselves with beer and wine. Suddenly, one of your colleagues lights up a joint.

Although recreational marijuana use is legal, does the company have the right to take action against your co-worker?

Hypothetical scenarios like this one are causing some management professionals to go cross-eyed as they consider the complex issues legalized marijuana might bring into the workplace.

Experts in management believe company human resource offices are going to have to come up with strict guidelines when it comes to employees using marijuana.

“I do think that very soon we’re going to have many test cases like this,” says Karen Dowd, executive director of career services and corporate engagement with the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business, “where the employer will have to document specific behaviors that are occurring that are related to the marijuana usage.”

“They’re not going to be able to say, ‘I’m firing you because you smoke pot,'” she says, “but they’re going to be able to say, ‘I’m firing you because you’ve been showing up late for work, or because you’ve been going into your office and not interacting with others; because you’ve gotten behind in filing the records that we need or because you’re operating slower than needed to do the job.'”

The high-wire act that many companies will face with legalized marijuana, says Dowd, is how to avoid discrimination lawsuits.

Human resource offices, she says, will have to send out messages to supervisors, “probably things like that you can’t discriminate against a person if they do smoke pot; but if you’re noticing changes in their work habits or work style, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ll have to be coached on how to document somebody and not violate their rights.”