Attorneys: Workplace priorities include impact of Trump administration, medical marijuana

About 70 people attended a workplace law seminar this week at the Lancaster Country Club. - (Photo / David O'Connor)

By this time next year, employers across Pennsylvania can expect to see employees who have cards to obtain medical marijuana.

But marijuana for recreational use is illegal, and many employers have zero-tolerance policies for workers who test positive for illegal drugs.

Which means employers better make sure now – while Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program is still being developed – that they have clear descriptions of which jobs are “safety-sensitive positions” in which medical marijuana use would be a hazard and a possible firing offense, a Lancaster employment attorney said Thursday.

The issue is likely “to have a pretty big impact on the workforce,” attorney Theresa Mongiovi said.

Mongiovi, a partner at the Lancaster firm Brubaker Connaughton Goss & Lucarelli LLC and chair of its employment and labor law department, and firm attorney Angela Sanders spoke to about 70 people at an educational seminar for business leaders. it was held at the Lancaster Country Club

The two spoke both on current laws likely to impact the workplace and the impact of the new Trump administration on work-related measures.

The event included an update on the now-shelved plans to update federal overtime laws, the status of the Affordable Care Act and other workforce-related topics.

The Trump Administration is likely to continue with the pro-employer tone it has had through 2017, the two attorneys and a partner in their firm agreed.

“We’ve already seen a lot of signs that this administration is going to make favorable changes for employers, to roll back expansions of employee rights” that proliferated during the Obama administration, Sanders said. “I don’t think there’s any question … he has a pro-business approach, and we’re seeing him carry that out.”

Firm partner Rory Connaughton added that with Trump, it seems that “the pendulum is swinging back to a greater level of equilibrium in the global bargaining power between employees and employers. That balance looks like it’s starting to return, which is good news for employers.”

Mongiovi and Sanders gave this overview on a few top workforce issues:

Overtime

Even though the proposed changes to overtime laws that were introduced in 2016 are all but finished, employers still would do well to supply the U.S. Labor Department with information it is requesting from companies, Mongiovi said.

The federal agency wants employers’ views on the “salary-level test” and possible plans to automatically update salary levels at which an employee is eligible for overtime, she said.

The input will give the Labor Department information as it revises the planned overtime changes to what many say will be a less-drastic new proposal to change overtime regulations sometime in 2018.

Officials now seem to have a “recognition that there was too much of an increase all at once” under the changes proposed in early 2016, Mongiovi said.

Medical marijuana

Many companies have zero-tolerance policies for illegal drugs, Mongiovi noted, and an employee who tested positive for drugs would be fired.

“Now (if they have a medical-marijuana card), you won’t be able to do that – if they have a card, you’re going to have to show that it’s a safety-sensitive job or that their conduct falls below what is accepted for that position. Now’s the time to plan, to talk with your employment law attorney, because this one’s coming, I promise you.”

Positions where safety is key could drivers, heavy-machinery operators and employees whose work takes them to tall heights, she added.

Immigration

Both the six-country travel ban that Trump instituted and a pending plan to overhaul the immigration system and reduce the number of green cards given “will potentially reduce employers’ ability to recruit and retain employees from other countries,” Sanders said.

David O'Connor
Dave O'Connor covers York County, manufacturing, higher education, nonprofits, and workforce development. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at doconnor@cpbj.com.

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