Marijuana, Arrests, Charges, and Convictions: A New Law Creates Changes For Employers.
**Part Two of a Four-Part Series: Click Here for Full Series*
In Part 2, we will address a new law that prohibits employers from inquiring into possession of marijuana for employee applicants, and a law that restricts state agencies and localities when inquiring about arrests, charges, or convictions for employee applicants.
Due to the enactment of these new laws in Virginia, businesses will need to understand what the laws require, update their employment applications, and educate and train their supervisors/managers accordingly.
State Agencies and Localities Prohibited from Inquiring about Arrests, Charges, or Convictions from Employment Applicants.
A new law prohibits Virginia state agencies and localities from inquiring whether a prospective employee has ever been arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime until the staff interview stage of the application process. During or after the staff interview stage of the employment application process, a Virginia state agency and locality may inquire whether an employee has been arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime – but not before.
However, the new law does not require a state agency or locality to wait until the staff interview stage under the following circumstances: positions designated as sensitive; law enforcement agencies; state agencies expressly permitted to inquire into an individual’s criminal arrests or charges; positions for employment by the local school board; positions responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of citizens or critical infrastructure; and positions with access to federal tax information in approved IRS agreements.
In response to the new law, Virginia state agencies and localities should remove from employment applications questions that ask about a prospective employee’s arrests, charges, or convictions. In addition, state agencies and localities should train employees not to ask applicants about arrests, charges, or convictions until the staff interview stage of the application process.
Prohibition Against Inquiring Into Possession of Marijuana for Employee Applicants
A new law provides that Virginia employers are prohibited from requiring employment applicants to disclose information concerning any arrest, criminal charge, or conviction for unlawful marijuana possession in any application, interview, or otherwise.
This new law also prohibits state and local government agencies, officials, and employees from requesting from applicants for governmental service, information regarding marijuana possession arrests, charges, or convictions. Unlike the law discussed above – which prohibits state agencies and localities from inquiring into general arrests, charge, or convictions until the staff interview stage – state and local government agencies cannot inquire about marijuana possession arrests, charges, or convictions at any stage of the application process.
However, the new law does permit state agencies to use information from an arrest, charge or conviction that is open for public inspection, for purposes such as:
- Screening for full-time or part-time employment with the State Police or a police department or sheriff’s office that is a part of or administered by the Commonwealth or any political subdivision;
- Screening persons who apply to be a volunteer with or an employee of an emergency medical services agency;
- Screening for full-time or part-time employment with the Department of Forensic Science; or
- By the Department of Motor Vehicles for the purpose of complying with the regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Penalties for Public and Private Employers
Employers should take this new law seriously since a violation can result in criminal prosecution for individuals who violate the law. A person who willfully violates this law is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor for each violation.
If an employer has a form inquiring whether an individual has been charged or convicted of a crime, they should include a carve out stating that this inquiry does not apply to the arrest, criminal charge, or conviction of a person for unlawful possession of marijuana. Similarly, employers should train employees not to inquire about any arrests, charges, or convictions for marijuana possession. Employers should also be aware of EEOC guidance regarding the use of employee arrests, charges, or convictions in employment decisions.
For further information or questions about these new laws, or for any questions regarding employment laws applicable to Virginia employers, please contact Ms. Spitler or Mr. Cassidy at Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian. The attorneys in the employment law department of VFN are available to help you revise your employee handbook and policies as well as provide training so that your organization complies with this new and other applicable law. Alternatively, if your organization does not have an employee handbook, our firm can draft a handbook tailored to meet your business’s needs.