Bill would bar workers from being fired for private pot use

BOSTON — A proposed law in Massachusetts would bar employers from firing workers for using marijuana legally on their own time.

While recreational marijuana use is legal for adults in the state, workers can still be fired for using the drug, even if it's outside of work and its effects have worn off by the time they return to their jobs.

The legislation Democratic state Sen. Jason Lewis plans to introduce would treat marijuana much like alcohol. Employees could be fired for showing up to work impaired, but employers could not police the private use of pot.

“It basically is the same as alcohol now, I think it should be treated the same," Boston resident Leza Shashkov said. “As long as you show up to work in working condition, it doesn’t really matter."

Unlike alcohol, THC can stay in a person's system for weeks, meaning a person who smokes or ingests marijuana on a weekend can easily fail a drug test after returning to work.

Now, that reality is being addressed by new legislation.

"It sets parameters for employers who often times overstep bounds for what they are allowed to do, or push boundaries for how they treat employees," Eric LeBlanc, partner with Cambridge-based Bennett and Belfort, said.

LeBlanc said the new measure raises the question as to whether employers can regulate what employees do outside the workplace.

"Somebody is using, but maybe it's affecting their job performance," LeBlanc said. "It's going to create some gray area as to what is allowable, what isn't allowable."

LeBlanc said many companies' employee handbooks haven't caught up to the legalization of cannabis in the state, and sees litigation as likely in the future.

"I do think government needs to make some sort of statement, and/or policy decision relating to how employers treat employees who use marijuana recreationally," LeBlanc said.

>>RELATED: Mass. Marijuana: Look for state's legal pot rollout to gather steam in 2019

Federal contractors would be exempted as marijuana remains illegal under U.S. law.

There is currently no reliable test for marijuana impairment and drug tests can detect traces of cannabis days or weeks after use.

>>MORE: Read all of our Mass. Marijuana coverage here