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Medical Marijuana and the Workplace

Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act goes into law on May 17, 2016, exactly one month after it was signed by Governor Wolf. The Act establishes a program for residents suffering from a total of 17 serious medical conditions, including cancer, ALS, HIV, AIDS, Crohn’s disease and epilepsy. It is expected to be 18 to 24 months until the program is fully up and running. During that time, it is important for employers and employees to acquaint themselves with their rights under the law.

Employers cannot “discharge, threaten, refuse to hire or otherwise discriminate or retaliate against any employee… solely on the basis of such employee’s status as an individual who is certified to use medical marijuana.” However, it is important to note that users are not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law also does not restrict employers from disciplining workers who use medical marijuana if their conduct falls below the normally accepted standard for their position.

There are legal limits to what registered medical marijuana users are allowed to do at work if they are under the influence. They cannot use certain chemicals, operate high-voltage electricity, or perform duties at heights or in confined spaces, even if it has negative financial results for them. Employers can also prohibited employees who are under the influence from performing work that they considered life-threatening to the individual or fellow workers.

There are certain aspects of the law that still need to be worked out. How can employers determine that their employees are under the influence on the job? How does routine pre-employment drug screening factor into the hiring process? These questions and more will likely be worked out as the Department of Health of the Commonwealth releases regulations pertaining to the Act, and through future discrimination cases.


Published May 25, 2016

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