The opioid epidemic is causing employers to consider the best ways to ensure a safe workplace, but companies should be careful when addressing employees’ prescription drug use. Recent court filings and settlements by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission illustrate the potential pitfalls employers face when attempting to implement a drug-free workplace.
Massachusetts’ highest court last month became the first nationally to rule that many job applicants and employees who are medically certified to use marijuana cannot be automatically denied employment if they test positive for the drug.
Massachusetts is one of many states – now more than half – with statutes permitting marijuana use for medicinal purposes. Those state laws protect users from criminal prosecution, but the large majority of the statutes (including in Massachusetts) are silent on whether employers are free to deny employment to those who test positive for “medical marijuana.” Until now, every court to rule on the issue had held that employers may refuse to hire those individuals based simply on a positive test.
With this ruling, employers in the Bay State must revamp their thinking and possibly even hire or retain known medical marijuana users.
As we previously discussed, employers continue to grapple with the workplace effect of medical marijuana laws (enacted in twenty-three states and the District of Columbia), as well as the recreational marijuana laws of Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. Notwithstanding these laws, marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and all courts to have addressed the issue thus far have held that employers may continue to insist on a drug-free workplace, conduct drug tests, and take adverse employment action based on positive drug tests.
Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws which decriminalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Under those statutory schemes, individuals with qualified medical conditions may become registered cardholders and obtain cannabis for medical purposes, often from state-regulated dispensaries. These developments present an array of new challenges for employers to navigate.