Friday, November 17, 2017
Business

Could you lose your job for testing positive for marijuana if you're a patient in Florida? Maybe

RECOMMENDED READING


As Florida legislators consider passing laws this year to regulate the new and growing medical marijuana industry, employers in the state are still faced with mounting grey areas in how to handle employment policies related to drug use.

There are more questions than answers for companies big and small, which enforce a drug-free workplace policy with their employees, said Greg Hearing, a shareholder with the Thompson, Sizemore, Gonzalez & Hearing law firm in Tampa. Hearing, who specializes in employment law, published an article in the Florida Bar Journal last month with his associate, Michael Balducci, outlining what employers need to know.

"This is a lawyer's dream," said Hearing during an interview with the Tampa Bay Times at the firm's downtown Tampa office. "Employers in the private sector will have more ability to enforce drug-free policies and no drugs in the workplace. But still, there's not much they can do until the laws change. Technically marijuana is still illegal under federal law."

The Times sat down with Hearing to learn more.

 

Most employers screen for marijuana in routine drug tests. How has legalizing medical marijuana affected that?

It's up to each individual employer to decide how to accommodate employees who may be using marijuana products, either in the workplace or at home. I think in a lot of cases, employers won't know that their employees are using medical marijuana until they test positive in a drug test. Employees don't necessarily have to be up front with their employers about this. Technically marijuana is still an illegal drug on the federal level, and it will be up to the employer to decide how they want to enforce their own drug-free workplace rules.

 

RELATED: It may be legal now, but opening a medical marijuana store in Florida is harder than you think.

 

 

Where do you see room for abuse of the system for employers?

There is still concern for safety in the workplace. Patients might not be getting high using the marijuana products available, but those same employees could still be buying pot illegally and using it, which would be masked on any given drug test. It will be difficult for employers to know the difference from the results of a drug test. Or what if patients are using the products at work? It's still unclear how employers can enforce (a policy on) an employee not to use it while they're working.

Another issue will be for employers that have offices in different states. How do you write a blanket policy that affects all employees, but may not be enforceable in specific states? That's still uncharted territory.

 

What kind of power do employers have if employees are obtaining and using marijuana products legally?

Employers in the private sector will be able to set their own rules, but could face lawsuits if they try to restrict employees from using it at work or if they are treated one way or another based on the results of a drug test. I think we'll start to see some of these cases bubble up this year in Florida courts. Until the laws are set, it could go either way. We've seen lawsuits like these in other states but there's still no black-and-white answer. One case I remember from Colorado was over an employee who worked from home for a call center company and used marijuana. It was determined that he was using marijuana on his own time, but the question was, "Is this person working while impaired?" Another case involved a caretaker employee distributing marijuana from the workplace.

 

Some major employers in Florida are more political than others. Publix tends to be conservative and its founding family members have been linked to campaign donations that fought against legalizing marijuana. Do you think we'll see companies take a stand like Hobby Lobby did over birth control or something similar?

I've gotten a flurry of phone calls from clients asking for more information on this topic because of reasons like this. It's tough to take a stand one way or another based on a moral issue. Employers have the right to set their own policies. That much is clear. This will only affect a small number of employees who qualify for medical marijuana in Florida, at least for now.

Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

Comments
Tesla’s latest creation: An electric big rig that can travel 500 miles on a single charge

Tesla’s latest creation: An electric big rig that can travel 500 miles on a single charge

The main course was expected: a pair of sleek silver Tesla semi-trucks that get 500 miles per charge, go from zero to 60 mph in five seconds and — if the hype is to be believed — promise to single-handedly transform the commercial trucking industry.B...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Florida jobs recover from Irma, unemployment rate drops

Florida jobs recover from Irma, unemployment rate drops

The tough hit that Florida jobs took from Hurricane Irma was not long lived, as predicted by economists. The state added 125,300 jobs in October, almost breaking even from the 127,400 jobs it lost in September. According to state figures released Fri...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? Disconnected we falter but there’s a plan to fix that

Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? Disconnected we falter but there’s a plan to fix that

How are we doing?That was the Big Question posed more than once this past week in Tampa Bay. First, the Tampa Bay Partnership and USF debuted in-depth and new ways to measure Tampa Bay across a wide range of indicators to gauge whether we are gaining...
Updated: 4 hours ago
We ask Tampa Bay startup leaders how best to advance entrepreneurial ecosystem

We ask Tampa Bay startup leaders how best to advance entrepreneurial ecosystem

What one thing could be added to the Tampa Bay startup community to help it grow and prosper?The Tampa Bay Times reached out to these leading area entrepreneurs and startup experts for answers.RELATED COVERAGE: Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? D...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Before you hit the mall: here are some key holiday shopping hours

Before you hit the mall: here are some key holiday shopping hours

Plotting a shopping strategy for the holiday weekend? Here’s a look at holiday store opening hours for some major retailers:Thanksgiving8 a.m.: Kmart1 p.m.: JCPenney4 p.m.: GameStop5 p.m.: Best Buy, Macy’s, Toys "R" Us, Kohl’s6 p.m.: Old Navy, Target...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Electric, autonomous vehicles featured at Tampa auto show

Electric, autonomous vehicles featured at Tampa auto show

TAMPA — The two biggest trends in the automotive space are ones you’ve likely heard of: electric vehicles and autonomous cars. Both will feature prominently at the Tampa Bay International Auto Show today through Sunday. The event at the ...
Published: 11/17/17
Developer changes approach as downtown Largo project lags in financing

Developer changes approach as downtown Largo project lags in financing

LARGO — Driving down West Bay Drive, you may notice some changes to downtown Largo.A new 29-unit apartment complex on Ridge Road stands finished and ready for residents. South of the complex, land that was formerly home to a community of rundown cott...
Published: 11/17/17
New vegan prepares for Thanksgiving with meat loving family

New vegan prepares for Thanksgiving with meat loving family

This will be my first Thanksgiving as a vegan. And, I’m nervous.It’s also first time back in my hometown of Milwaukee in five years. In a three-day span, I will visit at least 15 different relatives’ houses. All of whom welcome you in with a smile, a...
Updated: 2 hours ago
In Tampa Bay and elsewhere, early numbers show record sign-ups for Obamacare

In Tampa Bay and elsewhere, early numbers show record sign-ups for Obamacare

Despite the budget cuts, the attempts to repeal and replace, and reports of sharp rises in premiums, Floridians and other Americans are signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act at record rates this year.Enrollment has surged 47 p...
Updated: 5 hours ago
A Santa flight academy? Malls pull out stops to counter online shopping

A Santa flight academy? Malls pull out stops to counter online shopping

TAMPA — One of Santa’s helpers warns the grown ups to stand back. Sawyer Baker is about to be fitted for his virtual flight academy suit.The four-year-old from Safety Harbor holds his arms straight out, just like he’s told, and sees a moving, mirror ...
Updated: 6 hours ago