In September 2022, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) was amended to make it unlawful to discriminate against an applicant or employee who has engaged in the lawful use of marijuana outside of work. When the new law (known as “AB 1288”) takes effect on January 1, 2024, with limited exceptions, California employers will have to accommodate workers who engage in the off-duty use of marijuana, regardless of whether the use is for medical purposes.
AB 1288 is not a wholesale ban on employers restricting employees’ marijuana use or testing for it. Rather, the new law focuses on protecting against discrimination based on the use of cannabis outside of work hours and the workplace.
The new law does not ban drug testing – nor even completely ban testing for marijuana use. AB 1288 expressly allows an employer to rely on “scientifically valid pre-employment drug screening conducted through methods that do not screen for nonpsychoactive cannabis metabolites.” Such testing should only identify any current impairment or active THC levels. AB 1288 allows an employer to consider a positive result on such testing and to act on it.
AB 1288 further does not permit an employee “to possess, to be impaired by, or to use, cannabis on the job.” Nor does it affect “the rights and obligations of an employer to maintain a drug- and alcohol-free workplace,” as specified in Health and Safety Code section 11362.45, “or any other rights or obligations of an employer specified by federal law or regulation.”
In addition, AB 1288 does not apply to an employee “in the building and construction trades,” a term that the legislation did not define. AB 1288 does not apply to positions requiring a federal government background check or security clearance. It also “does not preempt state or federal laws requiring applicants or employees to be tested for controlled substances, including laws and regulations requiring applicants or employees to be tested, or the manner in which they are tested, as a condition of employment, receiving federal funding or federal licensing-related benefits, or entering into a federal contract.”
Employers may still conduct drug testing after AB 1288 becomes effective. California law generally allows drug testing of applicants without suspicion but requires reasonable suspicion to test current employees. If AB 1288 applies, employers who conduct drug testing must use tests that detect current impairment or active THC levels rather than nonpsychoactive cannabis metabolites.
Employers should consider updating or creating a written drug testing policy that clearly states the employer (1) does not discriminate based on an individual’s off-the-clock cannabis use away from the workplace and (2) does not test for nonpsychoactive cannabis metabolites.