August 9, 2022

Volume XII, Number 221


August 08, 2022

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DC City Council Enacts Major New Workplace Protections for Marijuana Users

Medical marijuana has been legal, in the District of Columbia, since 2010. And since 2015, the City has permitted adults to use marijuana recreationally. Earlier this month, the City Council went further by unanimously passing a bill to protect many marijuana users against adverse job actions.

Here are the highlights.

The Bill, termed the Cannabis Employment Protections Amendments Act of 2022, defines “employer” broadly to mean “any person who, for compensation, employs an individual, except for the employer’s parent, spouse, or children engaged in work in and about the employer’s household, and any person acting in the interest of such employer directly or indirectly.” It extends, as well to public employers, including the District government,” but not to the City’s court system and the federal government.

Under the Bill, covered employers may not refuse to hire, fire, suspend, fail to promote, demote, or otherwise penalize a protected individual based on his/her:

  • Marijuana use;

  • Status as a medical marijuana program patient; or 

  • The presence of marijuana in the individual’s bodily fluids in an employer-required or employer-requested drug test, absent additional factors indicating that the individual is impaired.

Also under the Bill, employers must handle a qualifying patient’s use of medical marijuana to treat a disability in the same manner as it would handle the legal use of a controlled substance prescribed or taken under a licensed healthcare professional’s supervision.

There are some limits.

The Bill authorizes an employer to take cannabis-related adverse action if:

  • The individual is in a position designated as safety sensitive – one in which it is reasonably foreseeable that an employee impaired from using drugs or alcohol would likely cause actual, immediate, and serious bodily injury or death;

  • Federal law or a federal contract or funding agreement mandates the adverse action;

  • The employee used, consumed, possessed, stored, delivered, transferred, displayed, transported, sold, purchased, or grew marijuana at the employee’s workplace, or during his/her worktime; or 

  • Using marijuana has “impaired” the employee, meaning that the employee “manifests specific articulable symptoms while working, or during the employee’s hours of work, that substantially decrease or lessen the employee’s performance or those symptoms interfere with the employer’s obligation to provide a safe and healthy workplace as required by District of federal occupational safety and health law.

If the Bill becomes law, employers will have to notify employees about their statutory rights, whether the employer has designated the employee’s position as safety sensitive, and the protocols for any testing for alcohol or drugs that the employer performs. The notice is due:

  • Within 60 days from the Bill’s effective date and annually thereafter to all incumbent employees;

  • When the employer hires a new employee; and

  • Within 45 days after the DC Office of Human Rights publishes a template for the required initial notice.

Employers that violate the Act will be subject to Office of Human Rights administrative fines – $1,000 or less per violation for employers with up to 30 employees; $2,500 or less per violation for employers with 31 to 99 employees; $5,000 or less per violation for employees with 100 or more employees. Repeat offenders – those that violated the statute more than once in the prior year -- could be required to pay double those amounts as a civil penalty. Additionally, violators could be required to pay the aggrieved employee’s lost wages and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

That’s not all. As an alternative to pursuing an administrative action, aggrieved employees may elect to sue their employer for the foregoing civil penalties, compensatory damages, appropriate equitable relief, reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, and any other relief that the Court deems appropriate.

© 2022 ArentFox Schiff LLPNational Law Review, Volume XII, Number 179

About this Author

Henry Morris Jr. Labor Education Attorney ArentFox Schiff Washington DC

Henry's matters have involved student rights, faculty rights, fair labor standard (including collective and class actions), equal employment opportunity, employee discipline and discharge, employment torts, breach of contract, trade secrets, non-compete agreements, plant closings, reductions-in-force, successor employer responsibilities, workers’ compensation, and unemployment compensation. Henry is a member of ArentFox Schiff’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Henry represents clients in a wide range of industries, including  education,...