Legal marijuana — what are your rights at work in New Jersey?
The eventual launch of New Jersey's adult-use marijuana marketplace will not give you the go-ahead to light up at work.
But there are protections related to cannabis and your employment laid out in the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act that was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in February.
Sections of the law related to employment won't take effect until late August. In the meantime, employers are being advised to take a look at their policies and update them where necessary.
"This does not change the drug-free workplace policies, and employers are not required to allow the use of cannabis in the workplace," said Amy Rudley, a partner with Cooper Levenson in Atlantic City. "You can still say that no one is able to possess or utilize marijuana products during work."
Such policies, however, almost never include rules about employees' drug use on the weekends or off-hours, Rudley noted.
"This really comes down to, if someone takes a smoke break, are they going to be allowed to take a marijuana break? No," she said. "It's not the same thing as smoking."
Rudley made her comments during a Cannabis in the Workplace webinar hosted by the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce.
While bosses are permitted to prohibit marijuana use on the job, they are not allowed to punish a worker or prospective hire based on their general cannabis use, legal experts note. In the state's law, marijuana users are essentially a new protected class among employees — employers cannot refuse to hire or take any adverse employment action against these individuals.
But an employer has the right to fire an individual who is under the influence of marijuana in the workplace, or possessing it. Rudley noted that drug policies differ for certain professions — for example, individuals who travel across state lines with a commercial driver's license are barred from marijuana use on and off the job.
Drug tests can persist in the workplace to help employers determine whether someone is under the influence on the job. Tests on individuals can occur if an employer has reasonable suspicion regarding marijuana use, or a work-related incident needs to be investigated.
Employers may also conduct drug tests for pre-employment screening, or as part of random or regular screenings. But in order for an employer to take action against a worker based on a positive drug test, the employee must be evaluated by a "certified workplace impairment recognition expert."
Rudley said there's some clarity needed regarding the certification of these individuals. She expects that employers will choose to certify a staff member, rather than hire outside help when an incident arises.