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Marijuana in the Workplace: Know The Risks

Marijuana in the Workplace: Know The Risks

Over the past decade, it appears our nation has become increasingly accepting and desensitized to recreational and medical marijuana use. 

As many people turn away from potentially addictive pain-relieving pharmaceuticals and shift to cannabis for treating ailments, employers’ drug testing and screening practices must comply with state laws despite marijuana being illegal at the federal level. Employers are rewriting drug policies and employment protections to remove ambiguity. With Gov. Rick Scott signing medical marijuana into law in 2017, more people here are using it than ever.

Will a corporation accept this medical remedy, or will they terminate the employee? People across the nation are continually confused as there is no one-size-fits-all answer. An employer has the right to hire and fire at will. However, if you are a disabled person and taking prescribed medical marijuana after work hours, and marijuana is legal in your state, then there is a greater chance you will not be terminated. This is because your employer may be required to provide a reasonable accommodation; medical marijuana may be the best and most effective treatment for your disability. 

Over the past few years, employees have been terminated, embarrassed, and turned away from opportunities due to medical marijuana use. I recently interviewed a candidate who divulged that she had anxiety and was legally prescribed medical marijuana. As much as I wanted to represent her for a job opportunity, my intended clients had an employee handbook outlining their zero-tolerance drug policy. As the president of my company, I decided to support my clients’ drug policies and source other opportunities more accepting of medical marijuana use.

According to Wendy Sellers, a human resources consultant, speaker and author, “If employees are in a safety-sensitive position, drug testing and strict policies regarding medical marijuana are in place to ensure safety for every employee. But overall, most employers’ concerns are not what their employees do outside of work or on breaks. Their concerns are the employee’s professionalism, engagement and productivity at work.”

Under federal law, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for qualified workers with disabilities. However, federal courts have ruled that the ADA does not include accommodation for medical marijuana — an illegal drug under federal law. Federal courts have passed the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), which preempts state law; meaning employers are able to terminate medical marijuana users for cause.

As of this article, 33 states have legalized medical marijuana and 11 states have legalized recreational marijuana. Whether medical marijuana is tolerated and permitted by your employer is ultimately the employer’s decision. However, all employers have the responsibility to ensure a safe work environment. At present time, a clear conflict exists between what’s permitted by 33 states and the federal government. Therefore, before you partake, know that you may be jeopardizing your career by following your physician’s prescription and advice. 


StarStaff President and Headhunter Avery Plavin has been helping businesses expand their human capital for 20 years. She gathers insights into the organizations she serves — and has partnered with Fortune 100 companies, private entities, and smaller businesses to grow their market share. Avery helps clients prosper by providing competitive analysis, tools, expert resume writing, and resources to allow them to remain competitive in our ever-changing market.


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