Zero Tolerance Drug Testing Policies in the Age of Medical Marijuana

Q:  My Company wants to institute a drug testing policy that would automatically disqualify an applicant for employment if they test positive for illegal drugs, including medically-prescribed marijuana. Is this legal?

A.  The law regarding the responsibility of employers to accommodate medical marijuana use continues to evolve as more states pass laws allowing for marijuana use for medical and recreational reasons. In Pennsylvania, for example, the law is silent as to whether an employer can rely upon a positive drug test as a reason to reject the applicant for employment. However, the statute lists specific areas in which employers may prohibit employees from working while under the influence of marijuana – operating or controlling government-controlled chemicals or high-voltage electricity, performing duties at heights or in confined spaces; and performing tasks that threaten the life of the employee or his/her coworkers.  By implication, outside these specified areas, employers may be required to accommodate marijuana use, so long as it does not occur at work.

In New York, the law goes even further, providing that certified patients shall not be subjected to “disciplinary action by a business” for exercising their rights to use medical marijuana. A patient with a prescription for medical marijuana in New York State is considered to have a “disability” under the New York State Human Rights Law.  This means that New York employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees or prospective employees who are certified to use marijuana for medical reasons.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled that employers may be held liable for disability discrimination under Massachusetts state law if they fire an individual for using medical marijuana. In that case, the employee was fired after her first day of work for failing a drug test, despite the fact that the employee had informed the company that her doctor has prescribed marijuana as a way to manage her Crohn’s disease.  The court held that using medical marijuana is as lawful as using any other prescription medicine, despite the fact that it is illegal under federal law.  Further, the court stated that it would be a reasonable accommodation for an employer to allow its employees to use medically-prescribed marijuana away from the employer’s place of business unless the employer can show undue hardship.

It is quite possible that the growing number of states that have enacted medical marijuana legislation will follow the lead of the New York legislature and the Massachusetts court in adding medical marijuana use – at least outside of the workplace – to the list of accommodations that are considered to be reasonable. That means that employers will not be able to rely on positive drug test results for marijuana for employees working in non-safety-related positions without engaging in the interactive process with the employee or applicant.  The employer will have to analyze whether the employee’s use of marijuana outside of working hours will prevent the employee from performing the essential functions of his or her job.  Moreover, the employer will want to monitor the employee to ensure that the accommodation does not impact the employee’s job performance.

– Tracey E. Diamond

 

Physical Exams as a Condition of Employment: Are They Permissible?

Q.  My Company would like to have all applicants for employment submit to a pre-employment physical examination to ensure that they are fit for the position. Is this allowable?

A.  Employers may require an applicant to submit to a pre-employment physical examination, but only after a conditional offer of employment has been made, and even then only under the following conditions:

  • All other candidates in the job category must also be required to submit to the physical;
  • The candidate’s medical history is kept separate from other employment-related records and is treated confidentially; and
  • The results are not used to discriminate against the applicant under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) or other discrimination laws.

To ensure that there is no ADA violation, the physical examination should be limited to an assessment of whether the applicant is able to perform the duties of the position, with or without an accommodation. To avoid a claim under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”), the physician should not request information about the applicant’s family medical history.

It would be helpful to provide the physician with a copy of the job description prior to the examination so that the physician is familiar with the responsibilities expected of the position.

Employers will want to tread carefully in making an adverse employment decision based on the results of a physical exam. The applicant’s offer may not be rescinded unless the issue is job-related and consistent with business necessity, or creates a direct threat to health and safety of the applicant or others, and the condition cannot be reasonably accommodated.  Moreover, the company could violate discrimination laws if it rescinds an offer based on non-medical information learned as a result of the physical (for example, the applicant’s age, religion, etc.)  Likewise, employers could land in hot water if they rescind an offer after learning about an employee’s pregnant condition as the result of the exam.

–Tracey E. Diamond

Pitfalls and Best Practices When Hiring for the Summer Season

Q: I hire seasonal employees for the summer.  Are there any particular considerations I should be aware of?

A: Seasonal employees can provide much needed support during the summer months.  However, there are certain issues to consider.  First, it is important to clarify upfront that employees are only expected to work for the summer, while at the same time reminding employees that the relationship is at-will and can be ended at any time by either party.

Another issue to consider is benefits. Many employers do not provide seasonal employees benefits other than what is legally mandated.  That practice is fine from a legal standpoint so long as it is applied consistently.  In terms of legally mandated benefits, it is essential for employers to understand which benefits apply to seasonal employees.  In certain circumstances, larger employers may be required to offer certain seasonal employees health benefits under the Affordable Care Act.  Moreover, depending on the jurisdiction, seasonal employees may be eligible for paid sick leave.

In New York City, for example, most employers have to allow employees who work more than 80 hours in a calendar year to accrue sick leave. While sick leave begins to accrue on the first day of employment, however, employees may not use sick leave until 120 days after the start of employment.  Thus, most seasonal workers will accrue sick leave, but will not be employed long enough to actually use it.  In contrast, Philadelphia’s sick leave law explicitly excludes seasonal workers, who are defined as people who have been hired for a temporary period of not more than sixteen weeks during a calendar year.

Seasonal employees also would be eligible for worker’s compensation benefits and potentially may be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

In addition to the benefits issues, employers also should be aware that seasonal employees are subject to the same wage and hour laws as other employees. Under federal law, non-exempt employees (whether seasonal or not) must be paid overtime for hours worked over 40 in a week.  Employers should be sure to be in compliance with state law requirements for overtime, as well as meal and rest breaks.

For employers who organize summer company events, such as barbeques, if attendance is mandatory, employees (including seasonal employees) should be compensated for their time. If attendance is truly voluntary, then employees who attend the event do not need to be compensated for their time. Consider establishing guidelines for appropriate employee conduct at such social events, particularly if they include alcohol.

Finally, while it may be tempting for employers to bypass the standard hiring and orientation processes for seasonal employees, it is crucial that seasonal employees are given policies and training in key areas, such as non-discrimination and harassment. In particular, employers should emphasize policies on sexual harassment, as well as other forms of harassment, and make clear that their policies apply equally to both seasonal and non-seasonal employees.  In addition to ensuring seasonal employees themselves are trained on such policies, it is also important for all employees to understand that seasonal employees are covered by the policies.  Employers who employ seasonal employees should consider revising their written policies so that seasonal employees are specifically included in the list of individuals protected and subject to anti-harassment policies, as well as EEO policies more generally.

Jessica Rothenberg

New York City Ban On Applicant Salary History Inquiries Effective October 31, 2017

Q. When will the new salary history law go into effect in New York City?

A. Effective October 31, 2017, employers are barred from asking job applicants in New York City about their salary history. The bill, which was passed by the New York City Council in early April, was signed into law by Mayor Bill di Blasio on May 4, 2017.

Salary history includes “current or prior wage, benefits, or other compensation.” The ban includes inquiries to an applicant’s current or former employer and searches of publicly available information for salary history.

To ensure compliance, employers should ensure that job applications for positions in New York City do not include inquiries about salary history. Employers should also update their internal policies and interviewing guidelines to ensure all relevant personnel are aware of the change.

For additional information, please see our previous post on the new law here:

– Jessica Rothenberg

Philly Wage Ordinance on Hold . . . For Now

Q.  I understand that the Philadelphia Wage Ordinance was supposed to go into effect soon. Do I need to take action to comply now?

A.  As we blogged previously, the new Philadelphia Ordinance would make it unlawful for employers in Philadelphia to inquire about a prospective employee’s wage history or require disclosure of wage history as a condition of employment. Employers would only be permitted to rely on such information if the prospective employee knowingly and willingly disclosed his or her wage history to the employer.

The Ordinance provides that its requirements go into effect on May 23, 2017. On April 6, 2017, however, the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce brought suit to challenge the Ordinance.  The Chamber filed a motion for a preliminary injunction on the grounds that the ordinance violates the free speech rights of businesses under the First Amendment and is unconstitutionally vague.

On April 19, 2017, the Court issued a temporary restraining order staying the enforcement of the Ordinance until the Court can consider and decide the Chamber’s motion for a preliminary injunction. Thus, at least for now, the Ordinance will not go into effect on its May 23rd effective date.

While the suit has halted the effective date of the Ordinance for the time being, we recommend that employers take steps now to prepare in case the Chamber’s suit is unsuccessful. The Philadelphia Ordinance is one of several initiatives across the country enacted to limit employers’ ability to obtain salary history as part of the interview process, and we expect this trend to continue.

If the Ordinance ultimately is upheld, employers who do business in Philadelphia will have to revise their employment applications to delete any questions inquiring about an applicant’s wage history. Recruiters, HR personnel and managers also may need to be trained about the new law so that these individuals know not to ask wage-based questions during the interview process.  In addition, employers may have to consider revising their Equal Employment Opportunity policies to add wage history to the list of protected categories.

-Tracey E. Diamond