Under Connecticut law, marijuana may be legally used to treat a wide range of medical conditions including the following:
- Crohn’s disease
- HIV or AIDS
- Intractable spasticity
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Post-surgical back pain with a condition called chronic radiculopathy
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Other medical conditions may be approved by the Department of Consumer Protection
Regardless of an individual’s ability to legally use medical marijuana to treat these medical conditions, Connecticut employers are still permitted to outlaw the ingestion of marijuana at work (or in public places or in moving vehicles). In fact, Connecticut law does “not restrict an employer’s ability to prohibit the use of intoxicating substances during work hours or restrict an employer’s ability to discipline an employee for being under the influence of intoxicating substances during work hours.” As a result, an employer in Connecticut can still have a policy that restricts the use of marijuana to lawful use outside of the workplace that does not cause the employee to be under the influence in the workplace or during work hours.
But, an employer cannot otherwise penalize an employee from lawfully using marijuana for medical purposes, unless required by federal law or required to obtain federal funding (i.e., because the use of marijuana for medical purposes is not allowed under federal law, if an employer has a federal contract requiring certification that all employees are drug free, then an employer is permitted to comply with that requirement by, for example, refusing to hire an applicant who has tested positive for marijuana use, even if such applicant is using medical marijuana as permitted under Connecticut law).
So what are you as an employer, with a zero tolerance rule on drugs, to do if an employee with one of the medical conditions listed above tests positive for marijuana? After all, marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug by the federal Controlled Substances Act – and is therefore illegal under federal law.
Some employees in this situation might seek protection from the Americans with Disabilities Act – but that act does not protect persons using so-called “illegal drugs”.
So now what? Your employee may still pursue a claim against you under the Connecticut Palliative Use of Marijuana law. This law prohibits non-federally funded employers from discriminating against employees who are “qualified patient(s)” under the act.
But wait. As an employer, you still have rights as an employer to prohibit the use of intoxicating substances in the workplace – right?
One thing is clear. Employees using marijuana medically do receive a limited and defined degree of protected status under Connecticut law. To make sure you understand the rules, have a qualified employment law attorney review your current employee handbook and any provisions regarding the use of intoxicating substances to make sure you are protecting your rights and the rights of those who work for you.
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