Medical Marijuana Employment: What you Should Know
Last Thursday, our president Tina Hamilton, PHR, was an expert panelist at the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce 2016 Annual Healthcare Summit at DeSales University. She was asked to participate in a symposium on what employers need to know about medical marijuana in the workplace. Employees who use it are a new protected class under federal equal employment opportunity laws, and many companies are not sure how that will affect their businesses.
The discussion was lively and covered a wide array of concerns employers have on the issue, including how the pot would be dispensed, what form patients could take, what impact this might have on workplace safety and how to keep compliant with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). From Lehigh Valley Business:
Patients who are prescribed marijuana from a physician certified to prescribe it, get a certificate from the state and a 30-day supply obtainable only from a special dispensary – not a commercial pharmacy, said panelist Frank T. Troilo, a workers’ compensation attorney with Zenith Insurance Co. of Norristown.
Troilo said the new regulations exclude employees in certain occupations from using medical marijuana if it “would put their fellow employees at risk or if the employee’s use would cause a public risk.”
He said employers can’t be sued under the Americans with Disability Act because marijuana is still a controlled substance under federal law.
Back in April 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed the bill legalizing medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. Employers in the state, like those in 24 others across the country and Washington D.C., will now need to heed the protections offered to patients who use pot for medicinal purposes.
Is your company ready for this?
What are you required to do if you have employees who are medical marijuana users? Are your policies and employee handbooks up-to-date enough to accommodate this “new normal”? According to a detailed article posted earlier in 2016 on The Employer Handbook by Eric E. Meyer (before Gov. Wolf signed the legislation), there are several things for companies to keep in mind. Specifically:
- An employer may not “discharge, threaten, refuse to hire or otherwise discriminate or retaliate against an employee regarding an employee’s compensation, terms, conditions, location or privileges solely on the basis of such employee’s status as an individual who is certified to use medical marijuana.”
- Employers do not have to make any accommodation for the use of medical marijuana on their property or premises of any place of employment.
- This act does not limit an employer’s ability to “discipline an employee for being under the influence of medical marijuana in the workplace or for working while under the influence of medical marijuana when the employee’s conduct falls below the standard of care normally accepted for that position.”
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not protect illegal drug use but does allow for the use of a drug taken under supervision by a licensed healthcare professional. Consider treating medical marijuana as you would other prescription drugs.
- The act does not require an employer to “commit any act that would put the employer or any person acting on its behalf in violation of federal law.”
Even back then, Meyers noted that there was some confusion within the bill that should be of concern to employers:
I’m getting some mixed signals here. On the one hand, you can’t discriminate “solely on the basis of such employee’s status as an individual who is certified to use medical marijuana.” (my emphasis). This suggests that you can discriminate for other reasons, such as actual use of medical marijuana.
However, then it says “Nothing in this act shall require an employer to make any accommodation of the use of medical marijuana on the property or premises of any place of employment.” (my emphasis). This suggests that you may have to accommodate the use of medical marijuana outside of work. Unless the employee shows up to work under the influence.
Now that this is the law of the land, we are looking cautiously at how this legislation will play out in the real world. Only time will tell.
How to deal with medical marijuana as an employer
Educating your employees about what they can expect at work will be important. In some industries, for example, laws forbids you from employing people with Schedule 1 drugs (as defined by the United States Controlled Substances Act) in their system, which means this new law won’t change anything once it goes into effect.
“Keep in mind that for a person to be certified to use medical marijuana, they will potentially already have an ADA-qualifying disability,” says Hamilton. “You can use this issue as a chance to update your handbooks so that they clearly cover workplace accommodations for disabilities.”
HR issues got you stumped?
The new medical marijuana employment laws can be difficult to adjust your current handbooks to. myHR Partner can help to tackle the HR tasks that encompass so much of what makes your business run smoothly, successfully and profitably. Contact us today to discuss how myHR Partner’s HR outsourcing can help your bottom line.