Smoking and working — drug tests still possible in Oregon

written by Jessica Else for The Argus Observer. Published on June 30, 2015.

You can still get fired from work if you spark up that joint on June 1, even though the state of Oregon says it’s legal, and even if you’re not high at the office. “Measure 91 is clear that employment law is unaffected by Measure 91,” said Tom Towslee, a spokesman for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. “If being drug free is a condition of employment today, they can keep it as a condition of employment after July 1.”

One of the questions surrounding recreational marijuana use is whether employers make that choice to continue testing after July 1, and if they do, what repercussions await employees who test positive for marijuana.
According to employees at Interpath Laboratory, a facility in Pendleton that processes drug tests, businesses have several options when it comes to drug tests, and they don’t have to test for marijuana.
The standard test includes marijuana and alcohol, but employers actually have the option to request marijuana and alcohol results be left out of the results that they receive.
Not everyone is interested in removing the soon-to-be legal substance from their drug tests, however. Some Ontario businesses will be continuing with their drug-free policies, and that includes marijuana.
“Our policy is we don’t distinguish whether drugs or substances found in the system are legal,” said Josh Schlaich, media coordinator for Saint Alphonsus Medical Center. “We have a zero tolerance policy for detectable levels of any substance that impairs” employees’ ability to do their jobs, he added.
Schlaich said the hospital doesn’t do random drug testing, but it does test if there are suspicions regarding impairment. If an employee tests positive for marijuana in his system, even after the July 1 legalization date, it will “result in disciplinary action up to and including termination,” Schlaich said.
The only exception to the hospital’s no-marijuana rule is medical use.
“As long as it’s a valid prescription within the legal dosage and the amount in the blood is within the dosage prescribed, we make accommodations for that,” Schlaich said. “Otherwise, it’s just like taking any other illegal substance.”
Area school districts also said they will be operating under the same policy after July 1, which means they will be doing pre-employment drug testing. Districts only test their employees if they suspect intoxication, except for their bus drivers. Anyone involved in school district transportation is expected to submit to random drug tests.
“Basically, we’re going with the Oregon School Boards Association’s policy and nothing will change,” Huntington School District’s secretary Shelley Guerri said. “We do pre-employment drug testing, and if anyone fails they probably won’t get hired.”
Abby Lee, public information director for Treasure Valley Community College, said the college won’t be changing any of its policies either.
“TVCC will continue its mandatory compliance with the National Drug Free Schools and Campus Act of 1989, which bans alcohol and drugs from all school and campus activities,” Lee said. “If TVCC fails to comply with that act, it could become ineligible for federal funding and financial aid programs for its students.”
Lee said TVCC does not randomly drug test employees, but they are not allowed to smoke or use marijuana on campus.
Local businesses, such as Farmers Supply Co-op in Ontario, are also weighing their options as the Wednesday legalization deadline approaches.
“We have talked about it a lot, and right now we do drug testing prior to employment, and we’re going to continue with our policy of no toleration of any substance,” said Angela Smith, chief financial officer at Farmers Supply Co-op. “We do know that it’s going to affect some of the opportunities we may have had previously.”
One of the complications that employers are facing as they decide how to handle drug testing with the new Oregon marijuana laws is that it stays in the body longer than any other legal intoxicant.
“Someone could smoke marijuana on Friday night and not consume any for five days and be tested on a Wednesday and it would still be in their system, but they wouldn’t be impaired,” Towslee said. “It’s a challenge, and I guess the question for some employers is going to be, are they willing to lose a valuable employee for doing something that’s legal?”
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