Medical Marijuana and Employer Rights in NY

Can I fire an employee for using medical marijuana?

New York passed the Compassionate Care Act in 2014, making it legal for patients who are seriously ill to use marijuana pursuant to a doctor’s orders.  Under the law, only those with certain approved conditions, like cancer or Parkinson’s disease, can legally use medical marijuana.  Passage of the Compassionate Care Act made New York the 23 state in the U.S. to allow patients to use medical marijuana.  Currently, over 6,000 patients are certified for use of medical marijuana across the state.

While the Compassionate Care Act is believed to have helped many individuals with grave conditions, it has created a quandary for employers.  Previously, employers could terminate an employee who tested positive for marijuana with little concern for legal action.  Now, however, employers in New York and other states with medical marijuana laws must carefully consider the potential negative consequences of terminating an employee for medical marijuana usage.      

Medical Marijuana Users Are Disabled

Under the Compassionate Care Act, “Certified Patients” who are prescribed medical marijuana by a registered physician are deemed to have a disability.  The New York State Human Rights Law holds that employers with four or more employees cannot fire or refuse to hire an individual based on his or her status as a medical marijuana patient.  Even further, employers are legally required to make reasonable accommodations for medical marijuana patients.  As such, an employer who terminates or refuses to hire a Certified Patient could face an employment discrimination claim.

Employers do still have rights when it comes to employees who use medical marijuana.  The Compassionate Care Act will not bar an employer from enforcing its policy of prohibiting employees from performing job duties while under the influence of a controlled substance.  Allowing Certified Patients to perform some job tasks while using medical marijuana could create a safety issue in some workplaces.  Further, the Act does not require your business to take any actions that would put your company in violation of federal law or cause you to lose funding.  

Employers should consult with an employment law attorney to ensure that company policies reflect the changing medical marijuana laws.  While employers do not need to accept medical marijuana usage on the job, they will want to be careful in their dealings with Certified Patients.  Your employment law attorney can review your current drug policy to make sure you comply with New York law.