California Says “No Medical Marijuana at Work”

Employment expert explains why groundbreaking bill was shot down, and what employees need to know

CaliforniaLast week, California made the decision to shelve a law which would have offered workplace protections to employees who are qualified to use medical marijuana. In part, the bill could have allowed these qualified users to be “under the influence” of medical marijuana at work, provided that they were not unduly impaired or having a negative impact on the company.

“Critics of California’s AB-2069 said that the bill was too broad and impinged on an employer’s ability to maintain a drug-free workplace,” says Rob Wilson, President of Employco USA and employment solutions expert. “This is an issue that is only growing in size and scope, as many states now allow marijuana use, either medically or recreationally or both. This has led to some very murky waters for employers, especially as some states prohibit the discrimination of employees with a medical marijuana card, while other states do not.”

So, what should an employer do to navigate this issue?

First, Wilson advises employers to get familiar with their state’s specific legislation. He also says, “If your employees are part of a collective bargaining unit, then it is likely that drug stipulations already exist, including specific limits for drug use. For example, in a recent case, an employee was found to be under the influence while on the job, but he claimed his medical marijuana card gave him permission to use while working. However, a drug test revealed that he was 10 times above his prescribed limit.”

For this reason, Wilson stresses that employers should not just rely on the results of a rapid drug test, as these results do not hold well in a court of law. “If you live in a state such as Illinois that does not permit the discrimination of employees who use medical marijuana, then you should definitely send the drug test results out to a lab in order to back up any fears that an employee might be using more than he should. However, if you live in a pass/fail state, this won’t be necessary.”

In most states, Wilson says employers can treat marijuana like alcohol, where even if the employee is legally able to consume it outside of work, it doesn’t give them permission to be under the influence while at work.

Wilson also stresses the importance of updating your employee handbooks to reflect any changes in the law. “Regulations regarding marijuana use are constantly in flux right now,” he says, “So it is wise to stay abreast of these changes and have them reflected in your employee handbook. For example, some employers are changing their policy from ‘zero tolerance’ to ‘zero impairment.’ At Employco, we recommend that companies add the statement to their handbook that they comply or adhere with all federal laws and do not tolerate any violations.”

Last, Wilson says that a company like Employco can be invaluable in helping employers to navigate these murky waters. “Whether you need help updating your employee handbooks or you want your managers to be re-educated about this issue, we can be of assistance,” he says.

For more on this topic, please contact Rob Wilson at