Legal Marijuana Presents Challenges for Employers

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Marijuana is getting intense focus in New Jersey.

In July, Governor Philip D. Murphy, who campaigned heavily on a promise to legalize marijuana for recreational use, authorized the expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program.

And there are currently two major bills under consideration in Trenton that would legalize adult recreational use of marijuana.

According to the New York Times, dozens of lobbyists from different interests, from the New Jersey Liquor Store Alliance to the New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company, have lobbied legislators in recent months.

And 19 different interest groups have formed to promote recreational marijuana, while four have set up in opposition.

John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey, has provided updates for the group’s members on the medical use of marijuana. He says employers must navigate complex legal issues because marijuana use, for any reason, remains illegal under federal law.

Yet he suggests that a medical marijuana prescription be treated like any other prescribed drug.

“Employers can enforce safety rules and rules of conduct but cannot discriminate against employees because of their medical condition” he says.

Some courts have allowed employees to sue their employers for disability discrimination for not considering a reasonable accommodation but if workplace safety is compromised, employers have prevailed, says Sarno.   

And while an employer can conduct a drug test when an employee appears intoxicated, the recreational use bills prohibit discharging an employee for using marijuana “unless the employer has a rational basis for doing so which is reasonably related to the employment, including the responsibilities of the employee or prospective employee.”

“If we get recreational use [of marijuana], employers can still conduct pre-employment and post-accident drug testing and can ban use during working hours. But unless there is a job-related reason, the employer may not be able to refuse employment” says Sarno.  

Sarno notes that the mandatory warnings that will be required on marijuana products state that “marijuana can impair concentration, coordination, and judgment. Do not operate a vehicle or machinery under the influence of this drug.”

“Employers obviously don’t want drivers or machine operators stoned” says Sarno. “Nor do we want people handling money or medical records, or customer service, for that matter to have impaired judgment.”

“I think that if an employee screws up a big customer order because they are high, that should be a rational reason for discipline, up to and including discharge. But, at the end of the day, it’s about the bad judgment, regardless of whether the person is using drugs,” he adds.

Watch EANJ's Archived Webinar: New Jersey Expands Medical Marijuana Use: EANJ Update