HARTFORD, CT — As the number of medical marijuana patients in the state increases on a daily basis, employers are looking for help from experts on how to handle the delicate matter of confronting a worker they suspect is high.
“Medical Marijuana in the Workplace” was the subject of a well-attended workshop last week.
Employers were schooled on how to handle medical marijuana and worker issues by Stephen Lattanzio, an attorney with the Office of Program Policy for the Connecticut Department of Labor, and Dr. Matthew Lundquist, occupational medicine specialist at Middlesex Hospital.
Connecticut now has more than 19,000 medical marijuana patients. The program provides medical marijuana for adult patients with 22 debilitating conditions and six different conditions for those 18 and younger.
Connecticut provides protections to employees who are medical-marijuana users or authorized caregivers for users.
Specifically, Connecticut law prohibits employers from refusing to hire, terminate, penalize, or otherwise discriminate against an employee solely on the basis of their status as a medical marijuana user or caregiver.
Employers, however, can still insist that employees refrain from using marijuana during work hours and can discipline any employee who is “under the influence” at work.
Lattanzio told the employers that just because Connecticut has legalized medical marijuana it doesn’t mean those who can legally use pot can do so in the workplace.
He added, however, that Connecticut’s law “does not permit discipline for possession until it crosses over into ingestion” while one is working.
“It is the right of the employer to discipline an employee who is under the influence on the job,” Lattanzio said.
One of the problems with enforcing discipline in worker-related medical marijuana cases in Connecticut, Lattanzio said, is that so far there have been no related court cases in the state, and very few in the country, to use as a basis for setting policy.
Lundquist told the employers that they shouldn’t be afraid to take action if they believe an employee is ingesting marijuana while on the job.
“I do believe that if you know your employees you can identify the signs,” Lundquist said. “Look for aberrant behavior — thinking slow, acting slow, blood shot eyes.”
He drew some laughter from the crowd when he said, “Maybe the person will say, I’m very hungry.”
Lundquist urged the employers “not to make it too complicated” and that “if you know your employees, you can identify it.”
That comment prompted one employer to ask the Lundquist and Lattanzio if singling out an employee for what someone thinks is use of marijuana on the job could lead to allegation of personal bias, or racial profiling.
“Is this dangerous territory?” the audience member asked.
Lattanzio answered: “This whole thing is dangerous territory. You’re profiling them to see if they are under the influence. Yes, I agree that’s dangerous.”
He said even if the employer acts appropriately they could face litigation down the road.
Both Lattanzio and Lundquist told the gathering of employers the best thing for them to do is know their employees, have good policies, and to stay up to speed on any new legislation or court cases concerning medical marijuana and the workplace — at either the state of federal levels.
There is nothing like a breathalyzer for marijuana so there’s no immediate way to prove an employee is high at the moment they are accused and since it can stay in their system for up to 28 days, Lundquist recommended vigilance.