Animal Control is a new sitcom on Fox that calls back to workplace comedies like The Office, Parks and Rec, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The show primarily follows Seattle Animal Control Officers, Frank (played by Joe McHale) and his partner, Shred (played by Michael Rowland), as they navigate various animal-related emergencies and their own equally treacherous professional and personal relationships.
When you combine exotic and potentially dangerous animals, professional ineptitude, quirky colleague personalities, and the occasional office drug use, there is ample fodder for an employment law blog.
An Interesting Day at Work
One example is Animal Control Officer Victoria’s (played by Grace Palmer) tendency to let her care-free, hard-partying life outside of work spill over into her professional life. Although her partner, Amit Patel (played by Ravi Patel) tries to lead her down a healthier (or, at least, somewhat less hazardous) path, Victoria is not always keen to follow the devoted husband/father’s advice.
On one emergency call, the precinct responds to a report from a distraught homeowner that his pet bunnies have gotten into his stash of magic mushroom-laced chocolates. The normally docile bunnies have reacted in a violent way that only Monty Python could have predicted. While the group does battle with the killer bunnies, Victoria works to score some of the special chocolates for her later enjoyment.
Victoria’s appetite for sugary contraband has unexpected (though rather hilarious) consequences when the director of her precinct, the good-natured and far too trusting Emily (played by Vella Lovell) mistakes Victoria’s secret stash for office treats shortly before she is scheduled to give a very public speech. Thankfully, no one is injured in the debacle, and Victoria hopefully learns a valuable lesson as she babysits her involuntarily intoxicated director.
Although the show takes workplace drug use to bizarre extremes for comedic effect, it does highlight an increasingly complicated issue in American workplaces: how to best address the safety, legal, and other implications of drug testing policies in an age where an increasing number of states are relaxing their anti-drug laws.
Indeed, many employers are opting to remove marijuana from their pre-employment drug testing panels, while others are limiting drug testing to safety-sensitive positions.
These actions are in response to a lot of factors, such as the growing legalization/social acceptance of marijuana and the shrinking job applicant pool. Employers are having to balance these considerations against their competing concerns regarding employee absenteeism, safety issues, and decreased productivity.
Takeaway for Employers
Navigating this ever-changing legal landscape can be quite tricky for employers. The average drug testing policy typically includes provisions for random testing, as well as reasonable suspicion testing. However, employers must be careful to comply with any specific state/local requirements.
For example, New Jersey now requires employers, who suspect an employee of being under the influence of marijuana at work, to confirm their suspicions using both a drug test and a physical evaluation by a professional certified to opine on the employee’s state of impairment or lack thereof.
Of course anyone, certified or not, could readily observe Emily’s state of impairment as the normally subdued director gave an impassioned speech before disappearing from work to frolic in the park. I am curious to see where the show goes next, and I have no doubt there will be plenty of opportunity for future blog posts.
In the meantime, maybe double-check the label before enjoying your next snack at your desk.
Kristin Starnes Gray is a Partner at FordHarrison.