Starting May 10, 2020, New York City employers may not require prospective employees to submit to testing for the presence of marijuana or tetrahydrocannabinols (or THC, the main psychoactive component of marijuana) in an individual's system as a condition of employment. Currently, neither New York state nor New York City have any general ban on drug testing during employment.
The long-awaited ban, which was passed in April 2019 and is included as an amendment to the New York City Human Rights Law, outlines several exceptions based on the employer’s industry and the prospective position. These include, for example, police or peace officers, positions requiring a commercial driver's license or those governed by Department of Transportation regulations, positions subject to testing under federal or state regulations or grant conditions, and positions requiring the supervision or care of children, medical patients or vulnerable persons. The new law also exempts positions that will be subject to a collective bargaining agreement that already addresses pre-employment drug testing for those prospective employees. The amendment also includes an exception for positions with the potential to impact the health or safety of employees or the public as identified by the New York City Commission.
In March 2020, the New York City Human Rights Commission issued proposed rules, which include proposed categories for safety sensitive roles, including positions that require regularly working on an active construction site, or power or gas utility lines, positions regularly operating heavy machinery, positions in which an employee operates a motor vehicle on an approximately daily basis, or positions in which impairment would pose an immediate risk of death or serious physical harm to the employee or others. The public comment period for the proposed rules has passed, but the expected finalizations of these rules has been delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The amendment bans only pre-employment testing for marijuana; it does not address testing for any other substance or mid-employment marijuana testing. However, all New York state employers should be mindful of the potential application of the New York medical marijuana law and applicable employment-related protections, including its relation to disability protections and accommodations under antidiscrimination laws.
Failure to adhere to the new ban on pre-employment screening can result in civil penalties up to $250,000 as well as consequential and punitive damages and attorneys' fees.
Employers in New York City should review their existing drug-testing policies to confirm that they are in compliance with the new law, as well as contact their testing vendors to ensure any pre-employment tests comply with the new law. We encourage clients to reach out to our HR Compliance, Training and Transactions team with any questions or to review any existing policies.
Legal clerk Kerry C. Zaroogian contributed to this article.