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New Jersey marijuana bill addresses employees' rights

It appears that New Jersey will soon be among the states where marijuana is legal for recreational use. Democratic leaders in the New Jersey Senate and Gov. Phil Murphy reached an agreement on a revised draft of the bill this week. It's scheduled to be voted on in committee next week and to be considered by both houses on March 25.

The proposed law addresses how marijuana will be taxed, who can sell it and how it can be delivered. One element of the bill that some employers aren't happy about involves actions they can take involving employees or applicants who use marijuana.

Under the revised version of the bill, employers can't fire an employee who tests positive for marijuana in a drug test. An employer also can't refuse to hire an applicant who tests positive unless it "has a rational basis for doing so which is reasonably related to employment, including the responsibilities of the employee or prospective employee." Employers also can't use an applicant's previous arrest or conviction for possession or distribution of marijuana as a reason to deny them a job. They can't fire an employee based on these charges, either.

Last November, when an earlier version of the bill was under consideration, an official with the New Jersey Business & Industry Association testified in a committee hearing, "We are asking that any law making marijuana legal for recreational adult use or expanding the state's medical marijuana program also give employers the right to prohibit employees from using it in the workplace or coming to work under the influence of it."

The current version of the bill allows employers to have a "drug and alcohol-free workplace." Therefore, it forbids workers from being in possession of marijuana at work.

Of course, it's never wise to come to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, New Jersey employees who use marijuana in their life outside of work (for recreational or medicinal purposes) need to be aware of their rights in the workplace and when they should consider taking legal action to protect them.

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