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Medical Marijuana
2017 Legislative Wrap-Up

The 2017 legislative session has come to a close.  This year, state lawmakers ended up passing out several measures that will amend various employment laws in Hawaii.  Such laws include workers’ compensation, payment of wages, Hawaii Family Leave Law, occupational safety and health penalties, and others.  In addition, the legislature also passed out bills with regards to the Affordable Care Act, medical marijuana, non-profit corporations, and privacy of medical records.

Each legislative session, I prepare a legislative digest on behalf of the Hawaii Employers Council (“HEC”) that provides a list and description of the bills we think could have an impact on employers.  To view a copy of the latest version of the legislative digest following the end of session, please click on the following link:  Employment Bills after Sine Die.

I also presented a 45-minute webinar discussing several of these bills.  The webinar is available for HEC members only and can be viewed here:  2017 Legislative Wrap-Up (Recorded Webinar).

 
Got Questions About Medical Marijuana?

These past few months, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about medical marijuana.  And no, the questions haven’t been about how to get medical marijuana!  Rather, companies and the media have been asking me various questions about the rights of businesses when it comes to medical marijuana usage, either by employees or even customers.  It appears these questions have become more and more common because medical marijuana dispensaries will be opening shortly here in Hawaii.

 questions

Recently, the Kokua Line – a column for the Star Advertiser – wrote a couple of brief articles addressing some of the questions that are commonly raised by businesses.  You can read the articles on the following links:

There were also several bills relating to medical marijuana moving through this year’s legislative session.  Only one bill is still alive, however, and that measure would expand the reasons for which an individual could qualify for a medical marijuana card.  Under current law, an individual qualifies for medical marijuana usage if s/he has a “debilitating condition” – which currently includes cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDs, or a chronic or debilitating disease or condition that involves cachexia, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms, or PTSD.

For further information about Hawaii’s medical marijuana laws, you can read the applicable statutes here:  HRS Chapter 329.

 
Let’s Talk About Drugs and Money, But Not in the Same Sentence (Quotes in the PBN)

Just recently, the Pacific Business News published a couple short articles where they included my thoughts about what we can expect during the upcoming legislative session.  The first article talked about possible medical marijuana legislation and the second article discussed Hawaii wage and hour law.

With regards to medical marijuana, I mentioned that we can expect to see bills that propose to expand the rights of medical marijuana patients in two ways.  First, medical marijuana is currently available only to individuals who have a debilitating condition, such as cancer, glaucoma, severe pain, or PTSD.  With the growing social acceptance of medical marijuana, we will likely see legislation opening up marijuana to conditions such as anxiety, stress, insomnia, and arthritis.  Second, we might also see measures that provide job protection for users of medical marijuana – meaning that an employer would be prohibited from firing an employee because the employee uses medical marijuana.

With regards to wage and hour law, we might see an increase in the salary threshold for Hawaii wage and hour exemption, which is currently set at $2,000 per month (in other words, an employee who is guaranteed a salary of $2,000 per month is exempt from Hawaii minimum wage and OT requirements, although they still need to comply with federal law).  Such legislation is especially likely in light of the DOL’s proposed increases to the salary basis for the FLSA’s exemptions.

You can read a copy of the articles here:  Medical Marijuana and Wage and Hour Exemption.

 
Hawaii Insurers Council Workers’ Comp Panel

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking on a panel for the Hawaii Insurers Council to discuss current workers’ compensation trends.  The panel discussion was a part of the Insurers Council’s two-day 2015 Annual Planning Meeting.

Clearly, workers’ compensation is a very hot topic, both locally and nationally.  And, with the costs of running a business being incessantly on the rise, employers are constantly concerned about increased costs and obligations under Hawaii and federal labor and employment laws.

For this particular panel discussion, I discussed some of the hot topics I thought would be of particular interest to employers and insurance carriers.  For example, medical marijuana is currently a very hot topic, especially with the passage of Act 241 SLH 2015, which legalized medical marijuana dispensaries in the State of Hawaii.  (Although medical marijuana has been legal in Hawaii for 15 years, individuals had no way of legally purchasing medical marijuana.  Rather, they either had to grow their own or purchase it from the black market.)  With medical marijuana being readily available within the next year or so, employers in Hawaii will have to face some key questions – i.e. can they terminate the employment of an employee who uses medical marijuana and are they required to cover the costs of medical marijuana for the purposes of workers’ compensation treatment?

Another topic I discussed is the possible vulnerability of the “exclusive remedy” provision for workers’ compensation cases, especially in light of such legal challenges that have been posed on the mainland.  In addition, there is also a growing trend for workers’ compensation opt-out provisions, whereby an employer can be excused from providing workers’ compensation insurance if they provide equivalent benefits in some other way.

Finally, due to the lack of time (there were four panelists total for just an hour of discussion), I didn’t have a chance to discuss issues related to the employee vs. independent contractor dichotomy in the context of the new “sharing economy” (e.g. Uber, Yelp, etc.)  This discussion is certainly worthy of its own blog post, which I will surely write one day, but one thing is clear – the way people obtain certain services is changing rapidly, and employers need to keep apprised of their legal obligations in light of such changes.

 
Employers Can Terminate Employees For Medical Marijuana Use, In Oregon

The Oregon State Supreme Court recently issued a decision in Emerald Steel Fabricators v. Bureau of Labor and Industrial Relations (Oregon, April 15, 2010), which addressed whether employers could terminate an employee for using medical marijuana.

The court’s decision?  Yes!

Oregon has joined California and Washington in ruling that employers can terminate employees for using medical marijuana.  The rationale is that while statutes decriminalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes protects employees from criminal prosecution, the same laws do not prevent employers from terminating an employee for violating a company’s anti-drug policy.

In addition, the employee in question was also found using medical marijuana in an illegal manner anyway.