Medical Marijuana: Stop and Think Before Taking That Smoke Break

Medical marijuana has been legal in California for some time, and shortly so will its recreational use. But that does not mean employers have changed their policies regarding cannabis use in the workplace.

Employees can be disciplined and/or sent home if an employer determines they are impaired, whether by legal prescription drugs and painkillers, alcohol, or medical marijuana - employees may be subject to termination as well. Additionally, the federal government still views marijuana as an illegal, Schedule 1 drug. There may be additional constraints if you work for the federal government or if your employer handles government contracts.

Think of it this way. While alcoholism is a disease and those suffering from it are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it does not mean an employee can show up at work under the influence of alcohol and avoid the resulting consequences including termination.  Medical marijuana is viewed the same as any other substance and/or traditional prescription medication that may cause an impairment.

Can employees take a dose of a prescribed substance while at the workplace? Yes, though with some caution. The substance and its use must not impair the employee; he or she needs to be safely perform all aspects of his or her job. For some positions, such as driving a vehicle or operating heavy machinery, an employer is within its rights to prohibit all such use.

Employers are proceeding with a great deal of caution when it comes to medical marijuana.  All employers should work openly and without judgment with employees who may have a medical condition requiring medical treatment involving the use of medical marijuana. The most conservative approach is to counsel an employee it may be wiser to stay home, recover fully, and then return to work when prescribed any medication that may cause impairment.   With chronic conditions, of course, this becomes more difficult. An open dialogue with an employee is key to treating all employees fairly.