In 2017, the state of Florida joined the ranks of many other states that have legalized the use of medical marijuana. While some view this as a victory for those living with debilitating medical conditions and illnesses, it also creates confusion for employers who want to conduct drug testing in order to help ensure a safer, drug-free workplace.
What does the law say about medical marijuana and employers?
Lexology, a leading resource on the Web for information regarding national and international law, reports that the law passed in Florida maintains the employer’s right to provide drug-free workplaces to their employees. The current law in Florida goes on to state that employers are not required to accommodate the use of medical marijuana in the workplace and prohibits employees from wrongful termination based on medical marijuana use.
However, the nation is divided on the issue of medical marijuana. Even among states where medical and/or recreational marijuana has been legalized, the laws vary substantially. The federal government continues to oppose the legalization of medical marijuana, and that creates another legal problem.
Legally, employers should enjoy certain protections in court once cases reach the federal level. The law is on the side of employers in this instance, but that isn’t a guarantee of protection.
What does this mean for employers?
Some local employers have chosen to remove marijuana from their drug screening entirely, while others have chosen to continue screening for the drug. Often, this decision is based on the perceived risks. While employees who use marijuana, performing graphic design from home may not pose much of a risk, employees who use marijuana and work on fire protection systems in the field unquestionably pose a serious threat. Mike Angstadt, CEO of Flagship Fire explains “Property and lives depend on the fire protection systems we install, so we’re going to continue doing everything we legally can to minimize or eliminate risks.”
Before you decide for or against marijuana screening in your workplace, or make hiring or firing decisions based on information obtained from these screenings, there are a few important points to consider.
The first is the fact that while medical marijuana is legal in the state of Florida, it is not legal in the United States on the federal level. This means the state and federal government are at odds on this issue. While your business may not be a federal business, if your employees are regulated by the Department of Transportation, require federal licenses, security clearances, work for the federal government, etc. your business could face massive problems by employing people who use medical marijuana.
The same holds true for any businesses employing people who are subject to DOT drug testing. Medical marijuana must be included in these screenings—even for patients who have prescriptions for medical marijuana.
In many states, people ill enough to require medical marijuana prescriptions are on medical leave from work or unable to maintain employment to begin with. The laws in Florida, however, are somewhat less stringent than in many other states and the oversight is not nearly as aggressive. In fact, the Florida Supreme Court allowed the amendment to proceed allowing medical marijuana use for conditions that “cause impaired strength, weakness or enfeeblement,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Loosely translated, the state of Florida could allow medical marijuana use for the following conditions:
- Muscle spasms.
- Back pain.
- Menstrual cramps.
- Neck Pain.
While some suggest that these conditions aren’t what the law intends, the problem is there are legal grounds for contending these conditions as they do fall within the scope of the law by interfering with a person’s ability to work and maintain a certain quality of life.
Because of this, Tampa employers face unique challenges and concerns. While Florida law does protect them from legal action of employees discharged as a result of medical marijuana use, it does not absolve employers of the responsibility to protect their patrons, customers, and other employees from the consequences of employees working under the influence of marijuana, medical or otherwise. And as a result, employers have an obligation to drug screen and perform proper drug tests on their employees not only for their own safety, but as in the case with employers in public sectors like the Department of Transportation for example, to also protect the general public from someone who may be impaired due to medical marijuana consumption.
What are your drug testing options as a Tampa employer?
The first thing you need to do is establish an organization-wide policy related to drug use, that includes medical marijuana. The policy must be strictly enforced and provide proper drug screening and drug testing procedures across the board. While your ability to create a drug-free workplace policy is protected by law, if you selectively enforce the policy, you are opening your organization up to potential lawsuits.
Your other option is to eliminate marijuana as one of the drugs you screen for. This is not advisable because an employee under the influence could pose a severe legal liability for your business.
Finally, as a employer, you must educate yourself about the signs and symptoms of drug use and abuse, so you can address employees who may have developed a dependence that goes beyond the scope of medical treatment.
It’s a fine line Tampa employers must walk to ensure the compassionate care and treatment of employees with the needs of the business to provide service, products, etc. created without the potential impairment medical marijuana use may create for motor function and mental clarity. Ultimately, your best protection involves staying up-to-date on the latest employment laws relating to medical marijuana and implement policy as soon as new laws are created to accommodate them.