Is it OK to talk with my coworkers about smoking pot?

Maybe tell a different story in the office.
Maybe tell a different story in the office.
Image: REUTERS/Rafael Marchante
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Q: I feel like people at liberal workplaces (such as my own) struggle with the question of whether it’s ok to admit to co-workers that you’ve done something like smoking weed or taking acid. Is it?

Dear Counter Culture Enthusiast:

While some colleagues may not be ones to judge, remember that the criminal justice system is: According to the DEA, many drugs—including those mentioned—classify as controlled substances, use of which may be subject to prosecution. Entire Constitutional amendments exist offering protection against self-incrimination, but are you comfortable with the idea of making a public confession, and coworkers potentially being called to testify in court? (A more common scenario than you might think, should the need for investigation into work-related matters present itself.)

Many workplaces also ban the use of drugs (note the common use of drug testing). Again, admitting to violations of your employer’s official policies would seem unwise, especially as they may result in stiff penalties and termination should management ever catch wind of these breaches. (Not to mention impact the future possibility of being promoted or finding work at later dates, should the need to seek a job elsewhere arise.)

Equally important, while coworkers may also have experimented with substances (rumor has it some might have grown up in the 1960s), think about the message being sent to others—especially more conservative colleagues—when such an admission is made. You’re effectively admitting to breaking the law, and engaging in activities to which negative social connotations are attached. Ask yourself: What assumptions might others make regarding my character and judgment—and how uncomfortable might they be in the presence of such discussion or insights? You’ve doubtless seen enough puff-puff-pass comedies and courtroom dramas on TV to get an idea of the types of clichés and conclusions observers may inadvertently jump to, just as a starting point.

You might also ask: How much do peers really need to know about your personal life? Certainly, it’s important to create connections and empathy with others, especially those you’re looking to rely on day-to-day as teammates. But it pays to do so over far less controversial topics, especially when you consider the office grapevine. One thing said to another in confidence often becomes public knowledge all-too-soon … and tends to gain embellishments with every retelling. Human resources managers often hear more than you think as well. They’re better off remembering you for your dedication and work ethic than off-hours exploits.

However liberal your workplace or office environment, it’s best to keep conversation professional and polite—and steer away from topics such as these, which can be lightning rods for trouble. Rappers like Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa might be able to bring up such subjects in passing dialogue without anyone batting an eye, but unless your boss is a big fan, keep your thoughts on the hush here.

Scott Steinberg is the author of The Business Etiquette Bible.

Do you have a workplace etiquette question? Submit to Scott by emailing work@qz.com.