Legalization of Cannabis: What This Means for Employment Law in New York
Several years after legislation was first introduced, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act into law on March 31st, 2021, making New York the state to have most recently legalized recreational marijuana use by individuals who are at least 21 years old. This act has been several years in the making, with medical cannabis use having been legalized in 2014 and minor marijuana related offences having been decriminalized in 2019. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act goes into effect immediately, raising crucial questions about its implications for employment law in New York.
Originally, Section 201-d of the New York Labor Law prohibited discrimination in employment based on a person’s lawful, off-duty “recreational activities” or “political activities.” The MRTA expands upon this by explicitly making it unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire, discharge, or otherwise discriminate against persons who legally use cannabis before or after working hours, off the employer’s premises, and without the use of the employer’s property.
Despite this amendment, the MRTA is not intended to “limit the authority” of employers who enact or enforce policies related to cannabis in the workplace. Employers are not in violation if their employees are impaired by the use of cannabis at work, if the employer would be violating federal statutes (where marijuana is still illegal), or if the employer would be otherwise violating any state or federal mandates, including the loss of government funding or contracts.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect for employers is the need to identify “specific articulable symptoms” of cannabis use in the workplace to take action against impaired employees, although driving under the influence is strictly prohibited. New York is currently in the process of forming the Office of Cannabis Management which might further clarify details of this act at a later point. Employees who claim that their rights have been violated under Section 201-d may file a private lawsuit for equitable relief and damages.
Employers have many factors to consider, including reassessing pre-employment drug screenings, clarifying policies that might assess articulable symptoms of marijuana use, and readjusting any policies currently in place. Bleakley, Platt & Schmidt can aid clients in administrative proceedings involving labor and employment related claims arising under federal, state and local laws, and in arbitrations involving claims arising under collective bargaining agreements and employment contracts. Our Labor and Employment clients range from large public corporations to small privately owned businesses and individuals. To learn more about our capabilities and the employment cases we handle, click here.
If you are seeking legal counsel or help with a litigation or other claim, call our Employment Law Practice Group at 914-287-6144.