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Can Ohio employees be penalized for using marijuana outside work?

On Behalf of | Jul 5, 2024 | Workplace Retaliation

As marijuana increasingly becomes legal for recreational use, employees are finding that while it may be legal to use in their free time, that use can have ramifications on their job – or even their ability to get one. 

Here in Ohio, where recreational marijuana only became legal this year, there are still numerous restrictions – especially for public employees. Some cities, including Dayton, prohibit employees from using marijuana when they aren’t at work. Many public agencies also have zero-tolerance policies. They often cite the fact that the drug hasn’t been legalized at the federal level.

Cities and counties vary in their regulations

The city of Dayton has had a policy in place since 2017 that prohibits employees from using any controlled substance unless they have a valid prescription. That policy notes, “Marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug due to federal law, and city employees may not consume and/or use marijuana, including use of marijuana for medicinal uses as allowed by Ohio law.”

Not all local jurisdictions in Ohio are so strict. As a Montgomery County official says, “We do not monitor an employee’s choice to use substances that create impairment on their own time. “However, if their substance use creates an impairment on the job — or their impaired actions somehow disparage the county off the job — they are subject to disciplinary action.”

Drug testing for marijuana is still allowed

Currently, Ohio law still allows employers to include marijuana in their drug testing for applicants and employees. They can use evidence of the drug in someone’s system as a basis for not hiring or terminating someone.

Practically speaking, employers can’t control what employees do in their own homes. However, as the law stands now, if someone causes an injury at work or makes a serious mistake and they’re known, at least among some of their co-workers, to use marijuana occasionally, their employer may be entirely within their legal rights to fire them even if that had nothing to do with what happened. Of course, if they only fire employees of a particular race, gender or other protected characteristic under these circumstances, there could be a valid claim of discrimination.

Whatever the circumstances, if you believe your rights have been violated because of your use of marijuana outside of work, it may be wise to get legal guidance.