June 16, 2015

Medical Marijuana: Are You Ready to Roll with It?

Posted in Application Process, Discrimination, Drug and Alcohol Testing, Drug and Alcohol Testing, Medical Marijuana, Medical Marijuana, Minnesota Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace Act tagged , , , , , , , at 9:53 am by Tom Jacobson

medical marijuana and the workplace

Medical cannabis can be lawfully dispensed in Minnesota starting July 1, 2015. How will it impact your workplace?

Medical marijuana (technically, “medical cannabis”) can be lawfully dispensed in Minnesota starting July 1, 2015. What does this mean for Minnesota employers?

First, the state’s new medical cannabis law generally prohibits Minnesota employers from using a job applicant’s or employee’s status of being on the medical cannabis registry as a reason for discriminating against that person. In other words, Minnesota employers generally cannot discipline, discharge or refuse to hire someone just because they are on the registry.

The new law also largely prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and applicants who test positive for cannabis unless they used, possessed or were impaired by the drug while at the work site or during work. While proving use or possession should not be too problematic, the law certainly complicates the “impaired by” part of the analysis.

Historically, employers could prove impairment by administering a drug test that complies with the Minnesota Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace Act (“MDATWA”). A positive test under MDATWA opened the door for future disciplinary action or withdrawing a job offer. Now, not only are employers prohibited from discriminating against employees and applicants who test positive, but also employees and applicants will have the right to provide their medical cannabis registration as an explanation for a positive test. While this still does not allow a registered patient to use, possess or be impaired by the drug at work, the challenge is that a positive test for cannabis will not necessarily prove when the employee or applicant used, possessed or was impaired by the drug.

As noted above, these are the general rules. There are a few key exceptions. Specifically, employers may discriminate against those on the state’s medical marijuana registry if failing to do so would violate federal law or regulations or cause the employer to lose a monetary or licensing-related benefit under federal law or regulations. Thus, employers who are covered by laws such as the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 or the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991 will be able to hold registered patients to a higher standard.

Employers also need to recognize that Minnesota’s medical marijuana law differs significantly from comparable laws in other states. Therefore, they should not pay too much attention to what happens elsewhere. For example, in one recent case (Coats v. Dish Network, LLC) the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Dish Network lawfully fired an employee who tested positive for marijuana, even though that employee was apparently using the drug lawfully under that state’s marijuana laws. Given Minnesota’s prohibition against discriminating against registered patients who test positive, the outcome would probably be different here.

As a practical matter, dealing with the implications of the state’s medical cannabis law should be a relatively rare occurrence. The state estimates there are only 5,000 people (about 0.09% of the entire state) who will qualify to be on the registry (see J. Ehrlich, Minnesota Medical Marijuana: What You Need to Know, MPR News, June 1, 2015). With a labor force of about three million workers (see Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Unemployment Statistics for April, 2015), that means there are probably only 2,700 potential workers statewide who could be on the registry. Given the severity of the conditions for which a person may qualify to be on the registry, the likelihood of those people also being in the workforce is even more remote.

Nevertheless, employers must be prepared to address the workplace challenges presented by Minnesota’s medical cannabis law. Specifically, workplace drug and alcohol policies (particularly MDATWA-compliant testing policies) should be reviewed and revised if needed to take into account the state’s medical cannabis law. And, employers will need to rely on evidence other than a drug test if they want to take action against employees or applicants who they believe have used, possessed or were impaired by marijuana on the work site or during work hours.

For more information, see please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this article are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA

Advertisements

June 15, 2015

Supreme Court Rules for EEOC in Abercrombie & Fitch Dress Code Case

Posted in Application Process, Discrimination, Dress Code, Grooming, Reasonable Accommodation, Relgious Discrimination, Religion, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 tagged , , , , , , , , at 10:36 am by Tom Jacobson

Employers must now use more caution when their dress codes clash with their employees’ religious beliefs. That is the result of the United States Supreme Court’s June 1, 2015 ruling in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc.

The case arose after Samantha Elauf applied for a job with Abercrombie. Elauf is a practicing Muslim who, consistent with her understanding of her religion’s requirements, wears a headscarf known as a hijab. Abercrombie had a “look policy” that prohibited employees from wearing “caps” as being too informal for work attire. The policy did not define “caps.”

After an interview, the assistant store manager rated Elauf as qualified to be hired, but she was concerned that the headscarf would violate the company’s “look” policy. Elauf, however, never requested an exception to that policy so that she could wear the hijab. The assistant manager asked her district manager for guidance, and she told the district manager that she believed Elauf wore the headscarf because or her faith. The district manager said the headscarf would violate the look policy, and he directed the assistant store manager to not hire Elauf.

The EEOC then sued Abercrombie on behalf of Elauf on the basis that the company’s refusal to hire Elauf violated the religious discrimination prohibitions of Title VII. The trial court ruled in favor of the EEOC (See Abercrombie & Fitch Dressed Down over Hijab in Religious Discrimination Case). The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed on the basis that because Elauf never provided Abercrombie with actual notice of her need for accommodation of her religious belief, Abercrombie could not be liable under Title VII.

On further appeal, the Supreme Court agreed with the EEOC and trial court. Specifically, the high court ruled that to prove a claim of religious discrimination in the workplace, an applicant need only show only that his/her need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision, not that the employer knew of the need. An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.

Thus, even if an employee or applicant has not requested a religious accommodation (for example, a dress code or grooming policy exception, schedule modification, etc.), an employer must not use that person’s religious faith as a factor in making decisions about the employee or applicant. In addition, employers should keep their dress and grooming codes somewhat flexible to allow for the accommodation of affected religious beliefs.

For more information, see the EEOC’s publications, Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace and Fact Sheet on Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities, or contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA

%d bloggers like this: