Connecticut Employment Law Blog Insight on Labor & Employment Developments for Connecticut Businesses

Marijuana is Decriminalized, But Employers Can Still Ban Workers From Using It

Posted in Human Resources (HR) Compliance, Legislative Developments

Last week, the General Assembly approved of reduced penalties for people caught with relatively small amounts of marijuana in their possession.  Notice the use in the title of the word “decriminalize”; that is a different term than “legalize”.

Employers Can Still Ban Usage

This raises the obvious question: Can employers in Connecticut still regulate and ban employee usage of marijuana? The answer appears to be plainly yes.

First, consider that alcohol is, in essence, a legalized drug.  Employers still have the right to ban employees from using it on the job. That suggests that employers can still do the same with marijuana (which still isn’t legal).

Also remember that marijuana usage is still prohibited under federal law and employment laws like the ADA do not require an employer to accommodate or accept current drug usage by employees.

And also still, nothing in the new law changes existing law. In other words, the bill does not, for example, say that employers are prohibited from considering marijuana usage in making employment decisions.

But a more important indicator are recent court cases from states that not only have decriminalized marijuana usage, but legalized it for medical purposes.  In those states, employers are still allowed to regulate drug usage by employees.

As reported in a recent WSJ Law Blog post:

It turns out that smoking weed legally for medical purposes can still be illegal.

Washington state’s Supreme Court upheld a Colorado company’s decision to fire a woman for failing a required drug test due to pot use, even though she had a valid medical marijuana prescription…..

The employee – who sued under the pseudonym Jane Roe – worked for TeleTech Customer Care and was fired in October of 2006 after a week of training. TeleTech, which performs the customer service for Sprint, had a contract with the telecommunications company that required drug testing of all employees, with no exception for medical marijuana use.

The 8-1 decision issued Thursday declared that the state medical marijuana law did not necessarily require employers to accommodate use of the drug outside the work environment….

That’s not to say that all states treat this equally. In fact, Delaware recently passed a law that prohibits employers from discriminating against users of medical marijuana, as reported by the Delaware Employment Law Blog.

What’s the Takeaway for Employers?

Don’t be distracted by recent headlines. Employers in Connecticut can still regulate drug usage by employees.