Marijuana use – whether legally recreational or medicinal, or illicit – continues to impact workplace law. Employers are struggling to keep up with changing laws. The EBI Screening News Weekly Wrap presented by Jennifer Gladstone tells us about two laws that could set more new precedents.
And one state finally gets smart about bad teachers. More details after the news brief.
Bad teachers in tv and movies can be funny (A.P. Bio, anyone?), but in real life their behavior is no laughing matter. A recent string of terrible incidents involving tough-acting teachers is putting a new spotlight on how educators are background checked and the importance of vetting their current credentials and employability.
A couple of months ago in Maryland, a high school teacher was arrested after attacking a student who bumped into her in the hall, setting off what was described as a “horrific” fight. A Florida middle school teacher was arrested in December for having inappropriate relationships with two 14-year-old students. And in Texas, a substitute teacher was charged with aggravated assault after punching a student several times, dragging her from her chair, and stomping on her head.
It wasn’t the first time that teacher had engaged in questionable behavior, though. Two months before that incident, a student’s mother reported the substitute teacher to the principal of another school for bullying her middle schooler. However, that complaint never reached district leaders.
That gap in how complaints about educators are handled and processed is, in part, prompting a new response from the Texas Education Agency. The state has created a “Do Not Hire” registry. This new tool will show schools if a job applicant is eligible for hire, or if they’re currently being investigated for misconduct. State law prevents a teacher from being hired if they are under investigation.
Until now, Texas schools had to conduct background checks independently. But since there was no standard operating procedure defining which types of checks should be run on teachers, lawmakers suspect some charges, plea deals, or settlements were never reported.
The public will also be allowed to access the registry starting in April.
This central database should help keep troubled teachers out of Texas classrooms. We’ll let you know if any other states follow suit. As the Screening News Network previously reported, Illinois has a similar law that automatically suspends a teacher's license if they are charged with a serious crime.
ICYMI: Background checks are confusing. That’s why you need an experienced, knowledgeable team to guide you through it. EBI’s award-winning Customer Care team is here to help.
Protecting Pot Smokers
A recent Pennsylvania court ruling effectively protects registered medical marijuana users from employment discrimination. The judgement, based on one woman’s experience after getting fired for a positive drug test, gives employees the right to sue their employer under the state’s Medical Marijuana Act.
In 2018, Pamela Palmiter registered with the state to access medical marijuana to ease her chronic pain, migraines, and persistent fatigue. In accordance with the law, she told her employer, and everything was fine – until the company was sold. After the acquisition, Palmiter was required to take a drug test. She tested positive for weed and was fired.
Palmiter sued claiming violation of the new state law. Commonwealth Health System – the new employer – claimed she didn’t have the right to sue. Employers had been watching – and waiting – for a clarification on an employee’s “private right of action” since the law was passed in 2016. Whatever the verdict, it would have far-reaching implications for what an employee could do if they felt they were unfairly terminated for medical marijuana use.
The court decided that while the law doesn’t explicitly spell out an employee’s right to sue, it is definitely implied. Without that right, the court says, the new law would be meaningless. In other words, an employee who is certified to use medical marijuana should be protected from being fired solely because they smoke pot. This certainly sets a precedent for other medical marijuana users in Pennsylvania.
Chances are this case will land in appellate court. If it does, we’ll keep an eye on it. Until then, Palmiter’s original lawsuit can move forward.
Have a question about medical marijuana? EBI’s “Ask an Expert” can help! Submit your question and we may feature it in an upcoming segment.
Wipe the Slate
As more states legalize marijuana, they are also re-visiting old convictions for something that is now legal. New Jersey is leading the charge. The state’s governor just signed a bill into law that will make it easier to wipe away marijuana and hashish offenses.
The new ‘Clean Slate Expungement System’ will automate the process and shorten the waiting period for low-level offenses. In some cases, if a person has maintained a clean record for a decade and has not been convicted of serious crimes, their record will wipe clean automatically. They will no longer have to petition the court for an expungement, a process that is often cumbersome and expensive. There is no limit to the number of marijuana and hashish offenses a person can have expunged.
Follow the Lead
The law is part of Governor Phil Murphy’s Second Chance Agenda, aimed at revising the state’s criminal justice system. The idea is to improve second chance hiring for the roughly 70-100 million men and women in the U.S. who have a conviction. Most of the industries who open their doors to ex-cons are blue collar, like transportation and service, but as we’ve recently reported in the Screening News Network, areas like finance are boosting second chance hires, too.
More states are expected to follow New Jersey’s lead, especially if they’ve already taken steps to legalize marijuana. Connecticut’s governor has a clean slate bill in the works. Grassroots efforts in Michigan and Georgia are also growing.