New York Employers are Prohibited from Discriminating Against Workers for Off-Duty Marijuana Use

The New York Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) was signed into law on March 31, 2021 which legalized the recreational use of marijuana by adults 21 years or older. The MRTA prohibits discrimination on the basis of legal use or possession of marijuana products. Additionally, the law gives employees the right to file a lawsuit if they have suffered such discrimination.

Before the MRTA

New York Labor Law (NYLL) predates the MRTA and safeguards employees’ off duty behavior, including engaging in the use of alcohol and tobacco. The MRTA effectively amends Section 201-d of the NYLL to incorporate cannabis.   

Rules Under the NY Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act

The MRTA doesn’t allow employers to discriminate against their employees based on their use or possession of marijuana products while the employees are off-duty and are outside of the workplace. Under the Act, employers are still allowed to maintain a drug-free environment, similar to what was permitted prior to the MRTA’s enactment.

Use or Possession Can be Prohibited

Employers may ban the use or possession of marijuana during work hours, on the employer premises; they may also prohibit the use or possession while an employee is using the employer’s property or equipment.

Impaired Driving Not Protected

An employee can take action against an employee who drives while using marijuana because The MRTA doesn’t excuse someone from driving while impaired by marijuana under the state DUI laws. 

Right to File a Lawsuit

If a New York employer has violated Section 201-d of the MRTA, an employee can file a lawsuit for a recovery of damages and equitable relief. However, it is not considered to be a violation if the employer took adverse action related to the employee’s use of marijuana under these circumstances:

  • The employer’s actions were required by federal or state statute, regulation, ordinance or other state or federal government mandate
  • The employer’s actions would require such employer to commit any act that would cause the employer to be in violation of federal law, or would result in the loss of a federal contract or federal funding
  • The employee is “impaired” by the use of the cannabis

An employee is “impaired” when they “manifest specific articulable symptoms while working that decrease or lessen the employee’s performance of the duties or tasks of the employee’s job position.”  Or that “interfere with an employer’s obligation to provide a safe and healthy workplace, free from recognized hazards, as required by state and federal occupational safety and health law.” The law doesn’t define the “specific articulable symptoms” in this context. This means that it is somewhat unsettled how and when employers can use this aspect of the MRTA.

Talk to an Attorney about Cannabis Use Discrimination in the Workplace

Now that marijuana has been legalized for recreational use in New York, you can be assured that your off-duty use won’t get you into work trouble. If your employer is discriminating against you, you have a path to relief. Talk to a skilled MOWK Law New York employment attorney who can help you explore where you have a case against your employer. Contact us today to explore your options.