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Employment Law Updates for Massachusetts and Rhode Island Employers | Bowditch and Dewey


May 26eRhode Island Governor Dan McKee signed legislation legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 and older, making Rhode Island the 19e State of the country to legalize marijuana for non-medical purposes. The law also provides that, by July 1, 2024, Rhode Island courts will automatically overturn prior marijuana possession convictions that are decriminalized by law and allow those seeking expungement to apply sooner.

In addition, the law contains the following key provisions:

  • Employers are not required to accommodate the use or possession of cannabis in the workplace or to work under the influence of cannabis. This explicitly covers employees performing work in any location, including remote work.
  • Employers can refuse to hire, or can impose discipline up to and including termination, on people who violate workplace policies on marijuana use or those who work under the influence.
  • Employers should be warned that they cannot take disciplinary action against employees solely for their private and legal use of cannabis outside the workplace, unless such use is prohibited under a collective agreement. . However, there are two exceptions for federal contractors and employees who perform “work that is dangerous, hazardous or essential to the public welfare and safety.” Specifically:
    • Federal contractor employers may impose limits on employees’ private legal use of marijuana if the terms of a federal contract or regulation prohibiting the use of marijuana by their workforce l require.
    • If an employee’s work involves “unsafe, hazardous or work essential to the public welfare and safety”, an employer may limit that employee’s lawful private use of cannabis within 24 hours of a shift. or an assignment. The law provides a non-exhaustive list of work covered by this exception, including but not limited to the operation of an aircraft, watercraft, heavy equipment, heavy machinery, utility vehicles, mass transit, explosives use, public safety first responder jobs, and emergency medical and surgical personnel.

Still, employers in Rhode Island will no doubt have concerns about the impact legalizing marijuana use will have on their workforce. Although employers can discipline employees who violate workplace marijuana policies, an obvious challenge will be identifying those who are under the influence at work. In other words, there is not yet a scientifically validated test to prove cannabis impairment, which means that employers must rely on observations such as physical appearance, smell and job performance.

However, to foster a safe and healthy workforce, employers should take this opportunity to review their policies and clearly communicate to employees that there will be zero tolerance for intoxication in the performance of work. , which includes the otherwise legal use of marijuana.


On March 23, 2022, the Commonwealth launched the HireNow initiative to address hiring challenges faced by employers in Massachusetts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. HireNow’s goal was to provide resources to enable eligible Massachusetts employers to quickly hire and train Massachusetts employees, including grants of $4,000 per employee. These grant funds were to cover employees hired before the end of 2022. However, employers should be aware that the Commonwealth has just announced that due to high demand from employers, the grant funds have been exhausted. Although additional funds may be made available, no new employer pre-registrations will be accepted at this time.

We will continue to monitor and provide updates on further developments regarding this initiative, as well as other issues impacting employers.

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