Architectural Columns

Posts by Susan McNeil

Most New York Employers Can No Longer Drug Test Employees For Cannabis

Most New York Employers Can No Longer Drug Test Employees For Cannabis

On July 1, 2021, I blogged about the intersection of legalization of recreational cannabis use and an employee’s workplace rights in New York. At that time, the New York State Department of Labor [“NYS DOL”] had not yet weighed in on whether employers may continue to test employees for cannabis now that recreational use is legal in New York or addressed other issues created by cannabis legalization.  On October 8, 2021, however, NYS DOL released guidance clarifying workplace rights in the post legalization era.  Adult Use Cannabis And The Workplace – New York Labor Law 201-D (October 8, 2021).

Review of NYS DOL guidance tells us the following:

  • Drug testing for cannabis is now permitted only when federal, or state, law requires drug testing or makes it a mandatory requirement of the position. For example, when federal or state law mandates drug testing for drivers of commercial vehicles or other safety sensitive positions, cannabis drug screening, be it pre-employment, randomized, or in response to an accident or injury, is permissible.
  • To impose discipline against an employee suspected of being under the influence of cannabis at work, an employer must show that the employee manifests “specific articulable symptoms of impairment” that decrease the performance of their duties or interfere with an employer’s obligation to provide a safe workplace as required by state and federal occupational safety and health laws.

So, what exactly are “articulable symptoms of impairment?” The guidance does not provide a list of specific symptoms but explains that the symptoms must be “objectively observable indications that the employee’s performance of the duties of the position are decreased or lessened.” This appears to mean that neither a positive drug test for cannabis nor the smell of cannabis on one’s clothing can serve as the sole basis for an employer’s conclusion that an employee was impaired by marijuana at work and therefore subject to discipline.

Keep in mind that cannabis legalization does not prevent an employer from prohibiting cannabis use during “work hours,” which includes unpaid breaks and mealtimes, even if the employee leaves the worksite. Employers can also prohibit the use of cannabis during periods when an employee is “on call.” In addition, employers can also prohibit cannabis possession while at work and prohibit cannabis use, and possession, in company vehicles or on company property, even after regular business hours or shifts.  When a remote employee works from the confines of a private residence, however, an employer cannot prohibit possession of cannabis at the remote location because the term “worksite” does not include a remote employee’s private residence. N.Y. Lab L. §201-D. As such, an employer can only impose discipline of a remote employee if s/he exhibited articulable symptoms of impairment during work hours, not for possession of cannabis.

If you believe you have been improperly disciplined by your employer for legal use of cannabis, contact a workers’ rights attorney.

Paid Voting Leave

Need To Take Time Off From Work To Vote on November 2, 2021? 

On Tuesday, November 2, 2021, polls in New York will be open from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm.

Employees in New York are eligible for up to two hours of paid time off to vote in certain circumstances. 

Specifically, if you don’t have “sufficient time to vote” during your workday, NYS Election law gives you up to two hours paid time off to vote. Election Law §3-110. By contrast, you are deemed to have “sufficient time to vote” if you have four consecutive hours to vote either from the opening of the polls to the beginning of your shift, or four consecutive hours between the end of your shift and the closing of the polls. Id. 

Here’s an example.  If you must work from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on Tuesday, November 2, 2021, the election law deems you as having “sufficient time to vote” and therefore not eligible to paid voting leave.  This is because the polls are open until 9:00 pm – which is four consecutive hours after the end of your shift at 5:00 pm.  If, however, you work from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm on Tuesday, November 2, 2021, you can get paid voting leave because the polls are open for only three consecutive hours after the end of your shift. The total amount of paid time off you are entitled to depends on several factors, including travel time from your workplace to your polling place, waiting time at your polling place, traffic, among other things. The maximum paid time off to vote is capped at two hours. 

Please note the following: 

  • You are required to give your employer at least two working days prior notice of your intention to take paid time off to vote, but not more than ten working days’ notice. The term “working days” is defined as any day that your employer is open for business. 
  • Your employer cannot require you to use personal time off or any other form of earned leave time to vote. 
  • Regardless of your vaccination status, masks are required for all individuals entering polling locations. 

If, you believe your employer is impermissibly denying you paid time off for voting, contact a workers’ rights attorney or the New York State Department of Labor.  

Legal Use of Marijuana in New York – Know Your Workplace Rights

On March 31, 2021, Governor Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act [“MRTA”] into law. The MRTA legalizes the recreational use of marijuana in New York for individuals over the age of 21 and expands New York’s existing medical marijuana program. While the law takes effect immediately, the sale of recreational marijuana is not expected to become legal for at least a year from the enactment date while the state works to create a regulatory framework for the cannabis industry.  

 This blog post will discuss how the use of marijuana, whether for a medical or recreational purpose, may impact your workplace rights. As a warning to all, it is important to understand that the recently passed legislation does not give one free license to show up for work under the influence of marijuana. In fact, some workplaces can still impose discipline if an employee tests positive even if s/he was not under the influence while at work. It must be understood that if you are under the influence of marijuana at work you are subject to discipline, up to and including termination.  If you test positive and your employer is subject to safety regulations, your employer may impose similar discipline, even if you were not under the influence while at work. 

 Medical Marijuana Use 

New York’s Compassionate Care Act [“CCA”] allows for, and regulates, the cultivation, distribution, prescription, and use of marijuana for medical purposes. The CCA allows approved organizations, such as hospitals and community health centers, to dispense medical marijuana to patients who have been certified by their health care provider and who have registered with the state Department of Health. Although federal criminal law forbids the possession, distribution, sale, or use of marijuana, thanks to the CCA, in New York the United States Department of Justice does not currently enforce criminal law provisions against individuals and entities engaged in the cultivation, transportation, delivery, prescription, or use of medical marijuana in accordance with state law.1  

 The CCA states that “certified patients” have a “disability” for the purposes of state antidiscrimination law. N.Y. Pub. Health L. §§ 3360(3), 3369(2). As a result, under New York State Human Rights Law, employers may not discriminate against an employee or job applicant based on lawful use of medical marijuana. N.Y. Exec. L. §§ 292(21), 296(1)(a). While under New York’s CCA, people with serious medical conditions may legally use marijuana in the manner prescribed by a registered care provider who is licensed to dispense, it is important to understand that this does NOT mean that a certified medical marijuana patient can show up for work under the influence or use medical marijuana in a manner that violates workplace rules. In addition, the CCA specifically exempts employers from doing “any act that would put the [employer] in violation of federal law or cause it to lose a federal contract or funding.” This means your employer may be exempt from following the CCA if subject to federal regulation, such as Department of Transportation rules.    

Here are a few examples of how New York’s Human Rights Law and the CCA may, or may not, protect your rights if you are a certified medical marijuana patient.   

I’m a certified user of medical marijuana and, while I was not under the influence of marijuana at work, I tested positive after a random drug test. Can I get fired?   

It depends. As a certified medical marijuana patient, you are “disabled” under New York law and, therefore, are a member of a protected class. As such, before imposing discipline, your employer must engage in a good faith interactive process to assess your needs and determine if there is a way to accommodate your use of medical marijuana that does not impose an undue hardship on the employer. If you work in a safety sensitive position, in a job subject to federal regulation, and/or your use of medical marijuana poses a direct threat to yourself, co-workers, or customers, your employer may have grounds to terminate even if you were not under the influence of marijuana while at work.  

I am a certified medical marijuana patient and report to work under the influence of marijuana or use marijuana during my shift. Can I get fired? 

Yes. In fact, a New York employer is free to fire, discipline, or take other adverse action against an employee who uses marijuana at work or shows up to work under the influence of marijuana—even if you need it to treat a medical condition. The understanding is that marijuana use to address your underlying health condition must occur when you are off the clock and at intervals that allows you to be at work when you are not under the influence. 

I am a certified medical marijuana patient with a conditional offer of employment. I tested positive for marijuana and synthetic tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) during the pre-hire drug test. After explaining that I am a certified medical marijuana patient, my employer withdrew the offer on the spot. Is this legal?  

It depends. Once your prospective employer is on notice that you are a certified medical marijuana patient, the law requires the employer to engage in a good faith interactive process to assess your needs and determine if there is a reasonable accommodation that will allow you to perform the essential functions of your job as a medical marijuana patient.  An employer is obligated to participate in an interactive process even if the employer is subject to federal regulations that prohibit hiring or retaining employees that test positive for scheduled substances.  If there is a way to accommodate your use of medical marijuana that does not impose an undue hardship on the employer, or create a direct threat to yourself, co-workers, or customers, you should not be denied the job.  If you feel the sole reason you were not hired is due to your status as a medical marijuana patient, you may want to contact an attorney to discuss your rights.   

If you are applying for a job in New York City on or after May 10, 2020, you will benefit from a local law amending the New York City Human Rights Law to prohibit pre-employment testing for marijuana and synthetic tetrahydrocannabinols (THC). See N.Y. Pub. Health L. §§ 3302(21), 3306(d)(21). This prohibition on marijuana testing in the hiring process, however, does not apply if you are seeking employment in a safety sensitive position, such as law enforcement, elder care, or medical services.  

Recreational Marijuana Use 

The MRTA amended the New York Labor Law provision that prohibits employers from refusing to “hire, employ or license, or to discharge from employment or otherwise discriminate against an individual” for engaging in legal recreational activities outside of work. N.Y. Lab. L. §201-d(2).  As amended, the provision now provides that the recreational use or consumption of marijuana outside of work hours, off an employer’s premises, and without use of the employer’s equipment or other property, constitutes lawful recreational activity.  

As a practical matter, the MRTA’s amendment of the Labor Law limits an employer’s ability to discipline employees for their recreational use of marijuana but, be forewarned, there are still employment related limits imposed on an employee’s right to partake and exceptions to the law that allow an employer to impose discipline. Consider the following:   

  • Nothing in the law “is intended to limit the authority of…employers to enact and enforce policies pertaining to cannabis in the workplace” or “exempt anyone from any requirement of federal law.” In other words, employees still must adhere to workplace drug policies. Also, under federal law, marijuana use is still illegal. The CCA’s protection from criminal prosecution for use of medical marijuana does not extend to recreational use.   
  • “Work hours” means all work time, “including paid and unpaid breaks and meal periods” and “all time the employee is actually engaged in work.” N.Y. Lab. L §201-d(c).  As such, an employee is subject to discipline for marijuana use during break time or a rest period during the workday, even if not on the clock.
  • Employers retain their ability to discipline an employee who is “impaired” by marijuana while on the job. The MRTA defines the term “impaired” as when an “employee manifests 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 such specific articulable symptoms 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.”  However, the MRTA does not define “specific articulable symptoms,” and until the state releases interpretive guidance, employers are likely to define the term broadly. 
  • An employer does not violate N.Y. Lab. L. §201-d if its response to an employee’s recreational use of marijuana: 1) is required by state or federal law; or 2) if failing to do so would leave the employer in violation of federal law or lead to the loss of a federal contract or funding. 

If you have questions about your workplace rights surrounding the legal use of marijuana, you should consider consulting an attorney.   

Part 2: Working For Tips At A Bar Or Restaurant In New York? Know Your Rights Under the New York State Hospitality Industry Wage Order

This is the second installment of a series of blog posts aimed at helping hospitality workers understand their rights under the Hospitality Industry Wage Order [“HIWO”], a complex group of multifaceted provisions that establish a wide variety of wage and hour rules for the hospitality industry.  This blog post will explain when a hospitality worker is entitled to receive extra compensation for maintaining a uniform.

Under HIWO, employers are generally required to pay “uniform maintenance pay” to help compensate an employee for the cost of maintaining a required uniform. 12 NYCRR §146-1.7. The weekly payment for uniform maintenance varies depending on where your workplace is located in the state, the number of hours you work each week, and in some localities, the number of employees on the payroll. For example, if you work in a restaurant in Syracuse, NY, your weekly uniform maintenance pay in 2021 will range from $7.45/week to $15.55/week, depending on the number of hours you work during the week. If you work at a restaurant in Manhattan with 11 or more employees, your weekly uniform maintenance pay in 2021 ranges from $8.90/week to $18.65/week, depending on the number of hours you work during the week.

There are exceptions to the general rule described above. So, before you demand compensation for maintaining your uniform, make sure your employer’s practice does not fall under one of these exceptions.

First, if your employer regularly launders your uniform free of charge, has an adequate supply of clean, properly fitting uniforms at the ready, and individually informs you in writing of the above, BUT you choose not to take advantage of this, you forfeit your right to receive uniform maintenance pay.

Second, your employer is not required to pay uniform maintenance pay when the required uniform is made of “wash and wear” material that can be laundered along with your own garments, provided you are given (at no cost to you) a sufficient number of uniforms consistent with the average number of days you work each week.

So, how many uniforms does an employer have to provide to avoid its uniform maintenance obligation?

This very question was explored by the court in Gregory v. Stewart’s Shops Corp., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89576 (NDNY 2016). In this case, a hospitality industry employer’s policy of providing two or three uniforms to full-time employees was challenged by employees who claimed the HIWO required an employer to provide a number of “wash and wear” uniforms equal to the number of days per week an employee regularly worked. The employer argued that a sufficient number of uniforms did not require them to provide one uniform for each day of the week the employee generally worked. The court ruled in favor of the employer, reasoning that the authors of the HIWO had a chance to draft a bright-line rule such as one uniform for each day of the week the employee generally works, and they did not.  Therefore, the subjective standard of a “sufficient number” is the rule.

Here is the take-a-way. If you work as a server five days a week your employer is not required to provide you with five “wash and wear” uniforms. Instead, your employer must provide you with a sufficient number of “wash and wear” uniforms, perhaps two or three.  If you are working five days a week and are provided with only one or two required “wash and wear” uniforms, you are likely entitled to uniform maintenance pay. If you are required to wear a uniform and you must pay for the uniform(s), you are also likely entitled to uniform maintenance pay because, technically, your employer has not furnished a sufficient number of uniforms. Finally, if your required uniform is not of the “wash and wear” variety, you are likely entitled to uniform maintenance pay, regardless of the number of uniforms provided and the number of days you work each week.

If your employer is subject to the HIWO and you suspect a compliance issue, you should contact an attorney or the New York State Department of Labor.

Experiencing Workplace Discrimination? Take Action Sooner Than Later to Preserve Your Rights

Please note that the information contained in this post is for informational purposes and is not to be considered legal advice. This blog post does not create or imply an attorney-client relationship.  If you would like to discuss your particular circumstances with us, please set up a consultation by contacting the Satter Ruhlen Law Firm at 315-471-0405 or through our website (https://www.satterlaw.com/contact-us/).  We look forward to walking you through your workplace rights.

As the saying goes, time waits for no one. This includes individuals who have experienced discrimination in the workplace.

Under the New York State Human Rights Law [“NYSHRL”], it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate based on an individual’s age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, sex, disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, familial status, marital status, or status as a victim of domestic violence. Your right to bring a discrimination claim against your employer for a violation of the NYSHRL is subject to time limits known as statutes of limitations. If you file your complaint after the expiration of the limitations period, you will likely find your claim will not be heard.

A discrimination complaint under the NYSHRL must be filed with the Division of Human Rights within one year of the last act of discrimination (or three years for gender-based discrimination). Alternatively, an employee can file suit directly in the New York State Supreme Court within three years from the last act of discrimination based on any status protected by NYSHRL. Be aware that the limitations period to bring an employment claim under Federal anti-discrimination law is significantly shorter. If you want to preserve your rights under Federal law, the charge of employment discrimination must be filed with the Federal Equal Opportunity Commission within 180 calendar days from the day the discrimination took place. The 180 calendar day filing deadline is extended to 300 calendar days if a state or local agency where you work enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis. This is the case for New Yorkers.

If you think you have waited too long to initiate an action against your employer, you may catch a break thanks to one of Governor Cuomo’s COVID-19 Disaster Emergency measures. Back on March 20, 2020, Cuomo’s Executive Order 202.8, tolled the statute of limitations contained in the CPLR and other “procedural law of the state” for the commencement, filing, or service of any legal action, notice, motion, or other process or proceeding. That order was extended monthly until Executive Order 202.67, dated October 5, 2020 affirmatively stated that there will be no more extensions after November 3, 2020. These Executive Orders may afford you additional time to bring your claim for employment discrimination.

If you believe you are a victim of employment discrimination and are contemplating legal action but have questions about whether your claim is time-barred, contact a lawyer to discuss your options.

The COVID-19 Vaccination and Your Workplace. Know Your Rights!

Please note that the information contained in this post is for informational purposes and is not to be considered legal advice. This blog post does not create or imply an attorney-client relationship.  If you would like to discuss your particular circumstances with us, please set up a consultation by contacting the Satter Ruhlen Law Firm at 315-471-0405 or through our website (https://www.satterlaw.com/contact-us/).  We look forward to walking you through your workplace rights. 

As COVID-19 vaccines become available, you may find your employer encouraging, or mandating, vaccination to slow the spread of the virus and to keep yourself, co-workers, customers, and the general public, healthy. Below are some scenarios that might come up and an explanation of your rights should you face one of these situations.

Can my employer ask for proof that I have received the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [“EEOC”] guidance, your employer can ask for proof that you have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Simply requesting proof of a COVID-19 vaccine is not likely to elicit information about a disability and, as such, is not a disability-related inquiry that would trigger Americans with Disabilities Act [“ADA”] (42 USC §12101, et seq.) protections. This means your employer is free to ask if you have been vaccinated and ask for documentation of this. Should your employer ask for proof that you have received the COVID-19 vaccine, make sure you don’t accidentally turn over any additional personal health information. If your employer presses you for information about why you have not received the vaccination and your response requires sharing information about your disability, it may be time to consult an attorney to discuss your rights.

Can my employer demand that I receive the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment?

Yes. According to EEOC guidance, when your employer mandates vaccination for protection against contracting COVID-19, administration of the vaccine is not a medical exam, nor does it seek information about your current health status or impairments. The EEOC’s interpretation allows your employer to demand that you receive the vaccine as a condition of employment. However, if your employer mandates COVID-19 vaccination, you have the right to request a reasonable accommodation if you either cannot, or will not, be vaccinated for medical reasons or sincerely held religious beliefs. If you cannot receive the vaccination and you request an accommodation, keep in mind that your employer does not have to provide the specific accommodation that you request. Also, if your employer genuinely can’t come up with a reasonable accommodation, the likely result is termination.

Do I have ADA protection if my employer administers the COVID-19 vaccine ? 

Yes. The pre-vaccination medical screening questions are likely to elicit information about your disability. According to EEOC guidance, when these questions are asked by your employer (this might happen in the healthcare context), they meet the ADA definition of a “disability-related” inquiry, and, as a result, you are entitled to ADA protection. The ADA requires that the disability-related screening questions be “job related and consistent with business necessity.” If you are concerned that your employer’s mandatory vaccination program does not meet this threshold, contact an attorney for advice.

Can I get fired if my employer requires a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment, and I refuse to do so because of my disability?

You should not be summarily fired for refusing to get vaccinated because of your disability. Instead, your employer should determine if you, as an unvaccinated employee, pose a “direct threat” to the health and safety of yourself or others, and whether the threat can be eliminated or reduced by a reasonable accommodation. If your disability prevents you from being vaccinated and you request an accommodation, keep in mind that your employer does not have to provide the specific accommodation that you request. Also, if your employer genuinely cannot come up with a reasonable accommodation, you may be terminated.

To assess the risk of having you at the workplace unvaccinated, your employer must conduct an individualized assessment to determine whether your presence in the workplace creates a direct threat to yourself or others. According to EEOC guidance, a conclusion that there is a direct threat would include a determination that you, as an unvaccinated individual, will expose others to the virus at the worksite. If the individualized assessment results in a finding of direct threat, your employer should include you in an interactive process to determine if there is a reasonable accommodation that would allow you to continue to work.

As advised by the EEOC, your employer may lawfully exclude you from the physical workplace, but you should not be summarily fired, otherwise disciplined, or suffer retaliation for refusing the vaccination. Instead, your employer should evaluate whether an accommodation, such a teleworking, is an option. If there is no accommodation available, your employer should determine if you are eligible to take leave under federal, state, or local leave laws, including the Family and Medical Leave Act, or under the employer’s leave-of-absence policies.

Can I be fired if my employer requires a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment and I am unwilling to get vaccinated because of my religious beliefs?

You should not be summarily fired if you refuse to get vaccinated based on your religious beliefs. If your religious beliefs prevent you from getting vaccinated, and you request an accommodation, keep in mind that your employer does not have to provide the specific accommodation that you request. Also, if your employer genuinely cannot come up with a reasonable accommodation, the likely result is termination.  

It is important to notify your employer that your religious beliefs prevent you from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Given the breadth of the EEOC’s definition of religion, your employer is unlikely to question the nature of your beliefs, however, take note that your religious belief, practice, or observance that prevents you from receiving the vaccine must be sincere.

Once your employer is on notice, you must be provided a reasonable accommodation that allows you to continue work without receiving the vaccination unless the accommodation poses an undue hardship on your employer. Courts have defined “undue hardship” in this context as having more than a de minimis cost or burden on the employer. The determination of whether an accommodation is reasonable often turns on the nature of your job and your employer’s business. Depending on your job duties, your employer might allow you to continue to work wearing additional PPE or have you reassigned to an available position that limits interaction with others, including remote work.

If there is no reasonable accommodation that would allow you, as an unvaccinated employee, to continue your job it would be lawful for the employer to exclude you from the workplace. If there is no accommodation available, your employer should determine if you are eligible to take leave under federal, state, or local leave laws, including the Family and Medical Leave Act, or under the employer’s leave-of-absence policies.

217 S. Salina St., 6th Fl.,
Syracuse, NY 13202

T: 315-471-0405
F: 315-471-7849

Attorney Advertising. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.