*Findings and proposed amendment address issues related to the impairment of workers on the job due to use of medical marijuana, opiates, prescription drugs and other legal and illegal substances*
AUGUSTA-The Maine Department of Labor has issued a new report, the 2016 Report on Substance Abuse, Marijuana, Medical Marijuana and the Maine Employer Substance Abuse Testing Law (26 MRSA Subchapter 3-A). This report recommends changes to the current statute with a draft amendment to the department’s bill, LD 1384, An Act To Improve Workplace Safety by Simplifying and Improving Employers’ Substance Abuse Policy Requirements. The report is available online at http://www.maine.gov/labor/labor_stats/research.html under the heading “Other Reports.”
“This report describes the important role employers play in the everyday lives of workers who may have substance abuse problems or are taking prescription drugs or medical marijuana that may cause impairment on the job,” stated Governor Paul R. LePage. “This working group and report is the first of its kind in the nation. The findings address the need to give employers the appropriate tools to retain valuable workers while maintaining the safety of colleagues and clients. These findings could help us bring people with a history of substance abuse issues back into the workplace, earning a living.”
From May through September of 2015, the Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Standards convened a diverse workgroup to gather information on issues relating to substance use and abuse in the workplace, legalization of medical marijuana, the potential statewide legalization of recreational use of marijuana and other matters as they relate to the administration of the Maine Substance Abuse Testing Law. The four-part report, finalized this winter, stems from presentations and discussions of that workgroup and from the review of related studies and reports.
“Maine’s crisis regarding opiate use and addiction underscores the importance of addressing substance use and abuse in daily life, especially the workplace, where safety is an important concern,” stated Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette. “Other states are looking to Maine’s leadership on addressing these issues.”
Workgroup members were invited from the field of the stakeholders associated with medical marijuana treatment and distribution, workplace substance impairment testing, employer substance abuse testing, state agencies, medical caregivers, labor organizations and groups representing employees and employers as well as individual employees and employers. The workgroup reviewed research on the nature, uses and effects of marijuana and other substances of abuse; the physical, physiological and institutional constraints upon monitoring and controlling their use; and how programs might be designed to fairly and effectively deal with substance impairment in the workplace no matter the source of the impairment.
The Department of Labor, based on the contributions of this workgroup, recommends two fundamental changes to the testing statute to be corrective of behaviors that endanger the individual, coworkers or clients. The first of these changes is to streamline the policy approval process to assure: 1) that substance abuse testing is administered consistently and more efficiently by employers; 2) that the regulatory process is more responsive to changes and trends in substances and practices of abuse; and 3) that the administrative delays, inequities and unnecessary burdens happening under the current law are eliminated.
The second change responds to the evolving nature of substance impairment in the workplace, including new or newly legalized substances of abuse and new trends in how existing substances like opioids and prescription drugs are abused or cause impairment on the job. Under the current law, employers that have approved “probable cause” drug testing policies can test an employee for marijuana and a handful of other substances, but only after they have established probable cause that the employee has taken the drugs. The Department of Labor recommends replacing the probable cause testing provisions with a new program providing training for supervisors and managers to effectively detect employee impairment, regardless of its cause, so they can quickly act to avoid worker injuries.
“Such changes will allow the department to focus less on administering the intricacies of the employer drug testing rules and more on helping employers and employees recognize and respond to substance impairment. The result: workplaces will be safer, more of them will be drug-free and fewer Maine workers will be injured on the job,” stated Commissioner Paquette.
Department staff are available to talk to any group with an interest in the report or the proposed legislation over the next several weeks. The presentation of the report and a work session on the department’s bill, LD 1384 sponsored by Rep. Joel Stetkis, is scheduled for the Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development on Thursday, Feb. 18 at 1 p.m. A similar measure from the first session of the 127th, LD 1011 sponsored by Sen. Andre Cushing, would have required such a study; the department agreed that this review would be beneficial and could be undertaken without the need for legislation.
The Bureau of Labor Standards helps workers and businesses make their worksites safer, educates about and enforces wage and hour laws and gathers information on working in Maine. Its Technical Services Division is Maine’s leading resource for data and analysis relating to workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities, and it enforces the current workplace drug testing statute and coordinates research projects related to the state’s workplace safety and health.