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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Proposed bill changes workplace drug test policy

Employees would be allowed to retake failed drug tests, "safety-intensive" workers exempt from bill

Rows of marijuana at-home test kits found at one of Bellingham’s Dollar Tree’s. // Photo by Alix Condit

By Hailee Wickersham

On Jan. 20, state democrats from the House of Representatives in Olympia proposed House Bill 2740, which would make it unlawful to refuse employment to someone who screened positive for marijuana use prior to employment. 

The bill has since moved into the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee.

According to the proposed bill, anyone who currently works as a firefighter, emergency medical technician, health care provider, law enforcement agent, operates heavy vehicles, construction work and those in “safety-sensitive jobs,” are considered exempt.

The main sponsor, Democratic Rep. Shelley Kloba, who represents the first district, said in a second draft of the bill that sponsors were working hard to narrow down exactly what “safety-sensitive” means.

Safety-sensitive occupations are defined in the updated bill as any occupations that include tasks or responsibilities on the job that the employer believes could affect the safety or health of the employee or others. 

If a potential employee tests positive for marijuana in a drug screening test within the first 30 days of employment, the bill would allow the employee to take an additional drug screening within 30 days from the initial test.

If the employee is able to prove they can comply with the drug-free work environment that their job enforces, the employer will accept and give consideration to the results, according to the bill. 

“It’s possible that employers are having a difficult time finding qualified employees partially due to the drug screenings in the interview process,” Kloba said. “We have someone who is otherwise qualified but didn’t pass because of their legal consumption of marijuana.” 

Bellingham resident Corey Anderson, a long-haul and heavy-load truck driver for two years, said this bill is a good first step in the right direction for protecting those who use cannabis recreationally.

“The bill could protect workers who chose to use cannabis before starting work at a company that doesn’t allow it during off duty hours,” Anderson said. 

Anderson said the way the law stands now, he would be banned from commercial driving for a year if he tested positive on a preemployment or random drug screening, even if he partook legally while he was off duty.

“After undergoing the mandatory drug counseling and being approved again, it would be difficult to find a good job for years,” Anderson said. “Most commercial liability insurance companies wouldn’t insure a driver with a prior positive test. Essentially, it’s a career-ending situation.”

Health care providers whose occupations were further defined in the second draft of the bill, which narrowed it down to those whose role “has a direct impact on patient care or safety.”

Alli McManus plans to attend Bellingham Technical College in the fall to study to be an emergency medical technician, one of the multiple occupations the bill lists as “safety-sensitive.” 

“Obviously no parent wants their pediatrician stoned and with their child,” McManus said. “That isn’t allowed no matter what bill is passed. But I think this bill, in particular, goes further than that, it’s the idea that they’re acknowledging legal use and the time it can stay in your system.” 

Working multiple days followed by a few days off is common in the medical field, but McManus said that even if she were to legally consume on her days off, she would risk losing her job as an EMT. 

“It’s not just punishing those that are smoking on the job,” McManus said. “It has the ability to punish those that are smoking responsibly, medically or recreationally and know their limits.” 

Currently, employers who hire employees under federal contracts that enforce drug-free work environments are not required to comply with an employee’s prescribed medical marijuana use.

House Bill 2740 does offer an extension of time for someone who has used marijuana and is a qualified employee to prove they are able to comply with the employers’ workplace standards with additional screening.


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