Medical Marijuana: How to Accommodate a Qualified User at Work

Currently, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Despite the fact that medical marijuana laws vary from state to state and clash with federal law, most state prescriptive marijuana laws protect both eligible patients and their primary caregivers. According to an article by the National Council of State Legislatures, patients who have their physicians’ permission to use marijuana to treat a chronic illness or relieve symptoms may be protected from arrest in some states.

In light of the above, employers may be contemplating whether they should accommodate employees who have been certified to use marijuana medicinally. An article on the Blog for Business Law noted that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) calls for employers to provide reasonable accommodation for certified employees with a disability. These include prescribed marijuana users who are authorized as disabled under state law.

Prior to making reasonable accommodation for a registered medical marijuana employee, you may want to reflect on the following strategies:

Clear Written Policy

It’s vital you first closely follow the legal requirements of the state and relevant federal regulations when writing your company’s policy on prescriptive marijuana accommodation. Involve your human resource personnel and acquire legal advice from an expert on the specific state laws to draw up a clear and comprehensive policy.

Reflect on Risk Threshold

You may want to include in writing prohibiting marijuana use or possession at work and circumstances resulting in employee termination, such as failure to fulfill job responsibilities or posing safety issues towards others. Since termination should be regarded as a last resort, the following actions may be taken if marijuana use results in impairment:

  • Provide the employee with a leave of absence;
  • Recommend a flexible work schedule; and,
  • Offer alternative responsibilities that don’t promote safety concerns.

The employee concerned can be subjected to consistent monitoring to safeguard workplace standards and safety.

Effective, Ongoing Communication

A company that communicates transparently and collaboratively with its staff on an ongoing basis shows its interest in achieving shared goals. This also prevents unnecessary disputes in the long run.

Include one-on-one, informal communication with the employee to clarify any area in the policy that he or she lacks understanding of, communicate expectations and prohibitions on marijuana use, gather feedback on how the employee is coping with work responsibilities and recommend any alternative job areas. Undeniably, all information will have to be kept confidential.

Publishing your policy on the company’s intranet is also a way to encourage open communication so concerned employees are clearly informed of the processes and requirements they need to observe as well as expectations they have to meet.

Laws surrounding medical marijuana may change from time to time. It’s important to keep abreast of legal developments in your state and align your company’s policy with current state laws. According to an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, by constantly reviewing your company’s guidelines and regularly educating your employees, you’ll be confident that medical marijuana use is handled in a relevant, consistent and transparent manner throughout the organization.

Emmie Sahlan has a graduate degree in English and has been writing professionally for the past five years. Her niche areas are insurance, credit cards, personal finance and education.

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