Recreational use of marijuana is now legal in Maine. So what does that mean for employers?

A trio of lawyers tackled that question at a workshop held last week by Verrill Dana. Although anyone reading this column should seek legal advice from their own trusted adviser, the upshot from the Verrill Dana workshop was that supervisors should base their management decisions on safety and performance issues.

Attorney Tawny Alvarez said she got a raft of calls from clients in the wake of the referendum that legalizes recreational use of pot asking whether they should institute a drug testing policy in their workplaces.

In general, she and her colleagues Richard Moon and Robert Brooks advised against that.

Instead they offered these tips:

n Review job descriptions and emphasize the safety and professional conduct aspects of those jobs

n Make sure you apply uniform standards of performance to all employees

n Base discipline on documented performance

For instance if a forklift driver appears glassy-eyed and dopey, he should be confronted by his supervisor and called out on his performance, not what the supervisor suspects is causing his performance. The issue for the supervisor isn’t whether this guy is stoned, but that he is not alert while operating equipment and could be a danger to himself or others.

Same thing with a bank teller who comes back from her lunch break reeking of pot. If part of an employee’s job description requires professional appearance because they deal with the public and represent the company in that capacity, the supervisor can, for instance, send her home to change and issue a warning that if it happens again, she could be terminated. The response from management would be the same whether the teller had alcohol on her breath or was unkempt in her appearance.

The trio emphasized that employers do not have to tolerate drug use at work or employees being impaired while at work.

They also were unanimous is noting that drug screening programs are often cumbersome to create and implement. In the case of marijuana they are not especially useful since trace amounts of pot can stay in a person’s system for months after they get high.

“There are certain circumstances where testing may be possible and possibly being under the influence may be enough for discipline,” said Moon. “Over time there may be additional guidance as to what test level constitutes being under the influence, but for now it’s up to credible physical observance. In the end a safe work place should be the most important concern.”

There are many gray areas in the law with respect to hiring decisions and liability – marijuana use is still illegal under federal law, even for medicinal purposes.

A legislative committee has been charged with overseeing multiple bills related to marijuana for this legislative session. On Monday, Gov. Paul LePage transferred rule making and oversight of the new law to the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations.

“You have to decide your rules, but luckily there’s lot of running room,” said Moon. “There’s time to plan, so look at your current policies and see what you want to do.”

SBDC SETS RECORD

Maine’s Small Business Development Centers, a network of one-stop shops of small business resources, reported having its best year ever in 2016.

Advisers helped clients secure $47.1 million in capital – a record in the 39-year history of the organization. That financing helped small businesses create 626 jobs and save another 380. It also allowed 120 new businesses to launch, according to a release from the SBDC.

Maine’s 10 SBDC centers is part of a network of nearly 1,000 business resource centers supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

In 2016, the Maine SBDC also provided no-cost business advising to 1,583 entrepreneurs and small business owners.

One of the beneficiaries was Izzy’s Cheesecake in Portland. Founder David Izenstatt had been making high quality, handcrafted cheesecakes since 1985. But he wanted to expand the business by selling mini cheesecakes to outlets like convenience stores and Whole Foods markets. He sought help from the SBDC office at the University of Southern Maine, where an adviser helped him set up financing to ramp up production and market the new product line. Today, Izzy’s mini cheesecakes are served in more than 200 grocery stores, restaurants and retailers throughout New England, according to the SBDC report.

THE VALUE OF FINANCIAL SERVICES

The New England Council, a regional business association, released a study this week on the impact of financial services industry on New England economies.

In Maine, the study showed that banking, credit union, asset management and insurance jobs accounted for 7.2 percent of the jobs in Maine. That percentage includes direct jobs of about 24,000, and indirect jobs – such as a receptionist in an insurance agency – which account for another 35,000 jobs.

If you’re looking for a relatively lucrative career, you might consider becoming a banker, insurance agent or asset manager, according to the New England Council analysis.

The study used $45,253 as Maine’s average wage in 2015. Compared against that, banking professionals earned $77,531 on average; insurance professionals $81,314; and asset managers, $129,847.

The impact of Maine’s financial services sector was somewhat muted compared with other New England states such as Connecticut and Massachusetts, which are hubs for certain financial services industries. Overall, the sector accounts for 15 percent of New England’s GDP, while in Maine it accounts for 8.9 percent.

Carol Coultas can be contacted at 791-6460 or at:

[email protected]