Can I Be Fired for Using CBD?
Despite being relatively risk-free, government entities only recently began legalizing CBD. In the last few years, CBD products have increased in popularity and are available in a variety of forms, including oils, gummy candies, tinctures, and lotions.
CBD products are legal in New York. What should you know about how its use affects your job? Can you be terminated for using CBD?
Here’s what you need to know.
New York is a CBD-Friendly State
New York is one of the CBD-friendliest states in the country. Many different CBD products are for sale throughout the state and residents are free to buy products in-store and online. Keep in mind, not all of the products are equally high in quality. This means it’s important to do your research and buy from reputable retailers.
Despite CBD use being legal in New York, employers might still be able to discipline employees for using these products. This is why it’s so important to understand the CBD market and make informed choices about the products you’re using.
Whether or not employers must not discriminate based on the use of medical marijuana varies from location to location. New York State legalized adult marijuana use, both medical and recreational, in March of this year via The Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA). The use of medical marijuana was already legal in the state.
What about Medical Marijuana?
As of 2020, 19 states including New York have enacted laws prohibiting discrimination against patients for using medical marijuana. This means most employees can’t be fired for using or testing positive for marijuana as long as they are using it for medical purposes.
This doesn’t mean you’re protected against discipline in all cases though when it comes to marijuana use. You can be fired if you use marijuana during work hours or you’re otherwise impaired during work hours by marijuana use.
It might help to think of CBD products as you would alcohol when it comes to workplace use. Like CBD, alcohol is perfectly legal for people over the age of 21 to consume, but if you’re drinking on the job or you come to work under the influence of alcohol, your employer could choose to discipline you.
Also, keep in mind, employers are free to adopt a drug-free work environment. They can refuse to hire someone who fails a drug test due to the use of marijuana or terminate someone using marijuana recreationally. There’s a good chance this will change in the coming years as recreational marijuana use becomes more mainstream. Many want the laws protecting employees from discrimination based on their use of “lawful products” while off duty extended to include marijuana uses and that’s likely to happen first in states like New York.
Your Likelihood of Termination for CBD and Marijuana Use is Lower Than Ever
Chances are, using CBD products isn’t going to cost you your job in New York. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t research the products you’re using, nor should you assume your job is automatically safe when using THC-containing products.
The use of CBD products could result in a positive drug test. Employers aren’t screening for cannabidiol, but many screen for THC – the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
And while many CBD products do not contain any THC, some do. This is why it’s so important to research CBD distributors and use products that you trust. If you are concerned about your CBD use affecting your employment status, you need to be sure you aren’t using a product that could trigger a positive drug test result. If you ingest THC, knowingly or unknowingly, it could show up on a drug test and it could be grounds for termination.
Did your employer discipline you for CBD use? Do you have questions about the medical or recreational use of marijuana and how it affects your job? We can help. Contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to schedule a free consultation.
Don’t Fire Me! I’m Drug Free! It Was CBD! Indiana Court Examines Termination for Use of Hemp Oil
In our modern world of a booming CBD industry and an increasing number of states that have legalized marijuana, can you terminate an employee for a positive drug test for marijuana? What if the test shows marijuana metabolites but you find out later it was a positive for CBD oil (a legal substance)? Does federal law protect an employee in any way in this scenario? In Rocchio v. E&B Paving, LLC, a federal district court in Indiana looked at this issue under the Americans with Disabilities Act and found no federal legal protection for the employee’s use of CBD oil.
Just the Facts
E&B prohibited the use of illegal drugs at their workplace and based the policy on safety concerns. It used a third party to administer random tests. E&B had a zero tolerance policy and immediately terminated employees who tested positive. One of the prohibited drugs for which E&B tested was marijuana.
Employee John Rocchio’s number came up, he took his drug test, and the test revealed marijuana metabolites in his system. The third-party testing administrator notified E&B that Rocchio tested positive for marijuana, and E&B terminated his employment. The employee who recommended the termination relied on the report of a positive drug test. A straightforward example of prohibited conduct and consequences, right? Not so fast, said Rocchio.
You Can’t Fire Me for Using CBD Oil!
Rocchio said he did not use marijuana, and the positive test was because he used CBD oil (also known as cannabinoid oil), a legally sold hemp extract. E&B relied on the drug test result rather than Rocchio’s plea of innocence and did not bring him back to work.
Rocchio filed a lawsuit claiming, among other things, that E&B violated the ADA by terminating him and not rehiring him. How was he disabled you ask? He argued that his employer “regarded” him as having a disability. The court found that even if Rocchio could prove that he was a qualified individual with a disability, he still could not prove he was terminated because of his disability and not the positive drug test.
ADA Doesn’t Prohibit Testing for Legal Substances
Just because the ADA does not say employers can test for legal substances (like CBD oil), does not mean they can’t. According to the opinion, Rocchio argued:
Because the ADA explicitly permits covered entities to prohibit the use of illegal drugs and to test for the use of illegal drugs, 42 U.S.C.§ 12114(c)-(d), but does not explicitly permit bans of legal drugs or testing for legal drugs, it follows that “it violates the ADA” if an entity takes an adverse action against an employee who tests positive from the use of CBD oil, a legal substance.
Clever, but the court did not agree. As an initial matter, the court held the ADA’s lack of explicit permission for a company to ban the use of legal substances does not mean the ADA prohibits such a ban. As we all know, a company can terminate an employee for any reason, fair or unfair, as long as it is not illegal. Also, E&B was not testing for CBD oil — it was testing for marijuana. The court pointed out that Rocchio presented no evidence that E&B knew the positive test result was because of CBD oil rather than marijuana. The report from the third-party testing administrator reported marijuana metabolites — not CBD oil.
No Evidence of a Perceived Disability
Now let’s get to the perceived disability claim:
Mr. Rocchio’s only evidence of discrimination is his argument that Defendants’ policy of terminating employees who test positive for drugs “categorically” “regards” them as users of illegal drugs and, because Defendants cite safety concerns as the rationale behind the policy, as having an impairment under the ADA.
Not so fast, said the court. First, just because E&B has a drug testing policy for safety reasons does not mean that it automatically believes every employee who tests positive has an impairment under the ADA. Even if E&B thought some employees who test positive will have an impairment, that does not mean it thinks all of them are impaired. Rocchio had to show that E&B thought he had an impairment. Second, an employer “does not have to tolerate unacceptable behavior” — like a positive test for illegal drugs — “even if that behavior is precipitated by an employee’s disability.” Finally, Rocchio had no other evidence of disability discrimination. Although two people (one an E&B employee) told him they were sorry to hear about his drug addiction, he had no evidence that those folks based the comments on anything other than “word of mouth” and speculation.
The court found no ADA violation and granted E&B’s motion for summary judgment.
This case raises interesting issues for employers. Rocchio says he was engaging in legal, off-duty behavior and it got him fired. This case suggests that if there is legal protection for him, it is not under the ADA. The facts that the court seemed to find most helpful for the employer were:
- The employer did not target the employee for testing — it was random and a third-party administrator handled it.
- The report to the employer was that the employee tested positive for marijuana metabolites. It never got a report about CBD oil or another legal substance.
- The employer consistently terminated employees who tested positive.
So what can we learn from this case? Your drug test may report CBD oil as positive for marijuana. You may want to warn your employees about that potential. If you do not want to terminate CBD oil users, think about what steps you should take to avoid this scenario, perhaps by having CBD users disclose it before testing (like a prescription drug). Also, if you live in Indiana, this case is helpful. However, this may have ended differently in a state that has legalized marijuana and/or has a law protecting legal, off-duty conduct. Check your local laws to be sure.
Anne Yuengert works with clients to manage their employees, including conducting workplace investigations of harassment or theft, training employees and supervisors, consulting on reductions in force and severance agreements, drafting employment agreements (including enforceable noncompetes) and handbooks, assessing reasonable accommodations for disabilities, and…
Anne Yuengert works with clients to manage their employees, including conducting workplace investigations of harassment or theft, training employees and supervisors, consulting on reductions in force and severance agreements, drafting employment agreements (including enforceable noncompetes) and handbooks, assessing reasonable accommodations for disabilities, and working through issues surrounding FMLA and USERRA leave. When preventive measures are not enough, she handles EEOC charges, OFCCP and DOL complaints and investigations, and has handled cases before arbitrators, administrative law judges and federal and state court judges. She has tried more than 30 cases to verdict.
Will Manuel focuses his practice primarily on commercial and employment litigation. Will advises businesses on issues involving age discrimination, sexual harassment and wage/overtime disputes for both large and small businesses in across Mississippi and other jurisdictions. His clients include numerous manufacturers and commercial…
Will Manuel focuses his practice primarily on commercial and employment litigation. Will advises businesses on issues involving age discrimination, sexual harassment and wage/overtime disputes for both large and small businesses in across Mississippi and other jurisdictions. His clients include numerous manufacturers and commercial interests as well as various insurance and financial services companies. He has worked to defend these clients in both MDL litigation and individual actions brought in Mississippi. Will’s focus is on active litigation from the initial discovery process through trial. View articles by Will.
As co-chair of Bradley’s Cannabis Industry team, Whitt represents clients in a wide range of cannabis issues. In addition to providing a full suite of legal services to cannabis companies, Whitt and the Cannabis Industry team advise non-cannabis clients – from banks to…
As co-chair of Bradley’s Cannabis Industry team, Whitt represents clients in a wide range of cannabis issues. In addition to providing a full suite of legal services to cannabis companies, Whitt and the Cannabis Industry team advise non-cannabis clients – from banks to commercial real estate companies to insurance companies and high net worth individuals – on best practices for interacting with cannabis companies.
Whitt is one of the leading voices in the cannabis bar – recognized as a “Go-To Thought Leader” by the National Law Review. He has presented on cannabis issues at conferences around the country. His work has been featured in the National Law Journal, Law360, and the Westlaw Journal. And he has been quoted in an array of legal and mainstream publications from Law360 and Super Lawyers to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Associated Press.