Do you care if your employees are high at work? I don’t

Gene Marks
4 min readApr 14, 2024

In the remote work era more employees are using substances on the job

(This column originally appeared in The Guardian)

Cannabis. Caffeine. Adderall. Xanax. Ritalin. Vicodin. Tito’s and Jameson. These are all legal substances in most states. Some can only be used when medically prescribed. The others are used “recreationally” and more people are using them than ever before. I know this because I know many of these people. They’re friends, workmates and even family. I’m one of those people. Do I care? Not one bit. We’re all grownups, right?

As an employer, though, maybe I should care when my employees are doing this on the job. It’s no surprise that the use of substances while at work is on the rise. A recent piece by Ella Glover in Dazed cites a survey from the American addiction site DrugAbuse.com which found that 22.5% of people admit to consuming drugs or alcohol at work, with one in five using cannabis while on the job. Glover points to the rise of remote work as the culprit.

“In a remote work environment, there is less risk (of being caught) and way more temptation,” she writes. This shift in the workplace “may enable someone to continue to use drugs problematically with little to no immediate consequences”.

My company is totally virtual. For all I know they’re micro-dosing, toking, snorting, injecting and doing shots all day. I can’t be responsible for their behavior, nor should I be. They’re grownups and — as long as it’s legal — they have every right to do whatever they need to do to deal with life on earth in these stressful times.

But what about on the job? I’m betting that more people than I care to admit are on some type of intoxicating or behavior-altering substance while serving my food, cleaning my hotel room or ringing up my groceries. Good for them. If I worked these jobs I’d probably be doing the same. I had friends in college who smoked weed before class and graduated with honors. I think a few of them still do the same today as lawyers and accountants. Whatever.

I have this attitude because that’s the nature of many businesses like mine. My people aren’t driving trucks loaded with toxic chemicals, supervising children, flying airplanes or providing medical care. I don’t have an office or production environment where the risk of an employee — like at a client of mine just a few weeks ago — needing a Narcan shot after collapsing in front of a slitting machine can pose a danger to others and themselves. My people are doing technical services and — like the cashier, the server, the hotel cleaner — if they make a mistake no one gets hurt or killed.

Which is why we don’t have a drug policy. I do, however, have a performance policy.

If there’s a performance problem, then I’m involved. And I really don’t care about the reason. Be it drugs, mental health, or just a bad attitude I can work with the employee to get them help but at some point we’re going to have to part ways. No harm, no foul. My main concern is that my clients are happy. I have a business to run.

If you want to have a draconian drug policy, go for it. Some of my clients do so because of the nature of their business, the culture of their workplace, or their moral position on substances. Fine. They oversee regular testing and are strict about warnings, suspensions and terminations when certain drugs are evident. Also fine. They spend the extra time and money on doing this because they feel that it’s important to their business, their mission, their corporate ideals. The federal government and most states allow this, as long as it’s not overly discriminatory and there’s a written policy along with reporting mechanisms and procedures.

Good for them. But this model is not necessary for my company or for many other companies like mine. I run a small business and I have other things to worry about. I do not have the time — nor the interest — in monitoring the use of substances by my people. I’m not their mommy and the risk is not big enough. I don’t have an ethical problem with people that take substances. I just have a business problem when that use affects their performance … and my clients.

Originally published at https://www.theguardian.com on April 14, 2024.

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Gene Marks

Columnist on smallbiz, economy, public policy, tech for The Guardian, The Hill, Philly Inquirer, Wash Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur. Small Business owner and CPA