- Recreational marijuana use was made legal in California on Jan. 1, but employers can still keep the drug out of the workplace. The new law doesn't prevent employers from upholding anti-drug policies or refusing to hire job candidates who test positive for illegal drugs, according to the California Labor & Employment Blog by Carothers, DiSante & Freudenberger.
- The law specifically states that it doesn't require public or private employers to allow or accommodate marijuana's use, consumption, possession, growth, sale, transfer or display in the workplace.
- Marijuana is still a Schedule I drug under federal law and prohibited by the Controlled Substances Act. A 2008 California Supreme Court decision upheld employers' right to enforce anti-drug policies and reject candidates who test positive for medical marijuana use, and the new law doesn't change that, the law firm noted.
Not long after the state officially allowed legal sales of recreational marijuana, the U.S. Department of Justice announced its plan to reverse the Obama-era's more lenient stand on marijuana and vigorously enforce federal anti-drug laws. The Obama administration discouraged federal prosecutors from bringing charges in states where the substance was made legal under state law. Regardless, anti-drug policies in the workplace have largely been safe, even in those states.
California employers can feel some relief that the new law allowing recreational marijuana use won't affect their anti-drug or hiring policies. It also doesn't change the Americans with Disabilities Act, which the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says doesn't protect an individual who is currently engaged in the illegal use of drugs, but may protect a recovered drug addict who is no longer engaging in the illegal use of drugs.
Substance abuse can cause mental and physical impairment, creating costly health and safety problems for the workplace, and anti-drug and alcohol policies help reduce the risks for workers and employers. However, employers would be wise to keep their eyes on this developing area. In some states, conflicting language in state law that has legalized medical marijuana use has led to employees winning cases regarding its use or possession. As tensions rise between state and local law and the federal government, similar cases may be brought to the fore.