Since the ’80s, many employers in the U.S. have made testing for marijuana and other illegal substances a regular part of their pre-employment screening process for new hires. For employees in security sensitive jobs such as maritime work, drug testing is required by U.S. law.
In the meantime, attitudes towards drugs like marijuana have changed significantly. Recreational marijuana use has doubled among adults in the last 20 years. The decriminalization and legalization of marijuana is a growing trend at the state level. Louisiana is one of those states; marijuana is now legal for medicinal purposes (but not recreational use).
These changes in marijuana laws and attitudes towards marijuana use have caused some employers to reconsider their policies towards drug testing, especially in today’s tight jobs market.
Employers Are Facing a Different Kind of Drug Problem
In states where marijuana use is legal, some companies are having to develop drug use policies that maintain safety standards while respecting a worker’s legal rights to use marijuana.
Other employers seem to be experiencing a different sort of drug problem. When a company relies on pre-employment drug tests to screen applicants, what happens when a large percentage of your applicants test positive for marijuana? Increasingly, companies are changing or dropping their marijuana drug screening policies in order to avoid staffing shortages, stating that the tests exclude too many qualified workers.
The Maritime Industries Are Under Federal Jurisdiction
The maritime industry is regulated by the federal government, specifically the Department of Transportation. That means federal laws, not state laws, apply to maritime workers. One of these laws is the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991, which requires DOT agencies to implement mandatory drug testing for transportation employees in safety sensitive positions. This includes workers in the aviation, trucking, railroad, mass transit, pipeline or maritime industries.
Under federal law, marijuana is as illegal as it’s ever been.
If a maritime worker fails or refuses to take a drug test, their employer is required to immediately remove them from their jobs. They aren’t permitted to return to work until they have:
- Undergone an evaluation by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP)
- Successfully completed any course, counseling or treatment prescribed by the SAP.
- Undergone a follow up evaluation by the same SAP to determine their compliance with the SAP’s recommendations
- Provided a breath and/or urine specimen that tests negative for drugs and/or alcohol prior to returning to DOT regulated safety-sensitive functions.
The worker will also be subject to unannounced follow-up testing at least 6 times during the first 12 months of active service with the possibility of unannounced testing for up to 60 months (as prescribed by the SAP). The Return-to-Duty and Follow-Up drug tests are conducted under direct observation.
The Lambert Firm Helps Injured Maritime Workers
Maritime workers face many dangers in their jobs, and being impaired by drugs or alcohol only increases the risk for the worker and those around him. While marijuana laws may be changing in the future, the need to be sober while on the job will always be critical to safety.
If you are a maritime worker who has been injured in an on-the-job accident caused by drug use or other negligent behavior, you may have the right to seek compensation for your injuries under the Jones Act and other maritime laws. The Lambert Firm is dedicated to helping injured maritime workers obtain the compensation they deserve for the physical, emotional and economic damages resulting from their injuries.