Legal Protection for Washington Job Seekers

Stephen Andrews
10 Jan 2024

A lot of new legislation entered into force with the coming of the new year. Among the novelties is that job applicants in Washington are now protected from discrimination during the hiring process, with employers not allowed to disqualify a candidate based on a positive test for cannabis. A similar measure on New Year’s Day was also enacted in California.

Job seekers in Washington are now safe under a new legislation that bars hiring discrimination for marijuana use. The state’s lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5123 in the spring of 2023, after which the piece was signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee. Its effects take place as of January 2024. 

The main provision from the bill is that Washington employers cannot take action against newly hired personnel for using pot in their free time and away from where they work. The measure is valid as well for new employees who have failed drug screening required by their employer in the hiring process. 

Drug tests are still in place for certain safety-sensitive positions, and those jobs that require a federal background check or security clearance. Law enforcement officers, firefighters, and other first respondents, or positions in the airlines and aerospace sectors, are some of the examples where passing a drug test remains an eligibility criteria upon applying. 

Washington, along with California, have followed a number of other states that recently upgraded their regulation on discrimination protection in the pre-employment period. Measures where cannabis screening has been taken off the list for either new hires or current workers have been introduced also in Connecticut, Montana, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia. 

Employers Can Still Test Staff Every Week If They Want 

The new Washington law might support applicants to secure a job post they’re interested in, and that’s all there is to it. The legislation does not affect existent workplace policies that demand current workers to undergo drug testing.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Karen Keiser, offered an explanation in an earlier interview. “If your employer wants to test you every week after you’re hired, they’re still able to do that,” Keiser said last year. “This is simply opening the front door of getting into a job. Because too many people who see that they have to take a drug test to even apply, don’t even apply.” 

Unlike California’s new law, which also went into effect Jan. 1, 2024, the Washington legislation did not eliminate urine or hair tests, that can return positive results on marijuana presence weeks after actual use. It’s the kind of law change you might have expected for Washington, but here we are, it didn’t happen. 

Cannabis advocates have long argued that urine screening for example, is not a reliable method to prove whether someone was impaired on the job. Regardless of the fact, a lot of employers still rely on that, and it often results in penalties for those hires who return a positive test. 

Lawmakers who shape future laws for workplace protections against discrimination for cannabis use off-duty, should consider the available scientific evidence. That, as research has shown, there’s no statistically significant link between marijuana use and occupational hazards. Less to fear when you remove (at least certain) drug tests from the requirement lists. 

Also read on Soft Secrets:

Employment Protections for California Weed Users

Can New Jersey Cops Smoke Pot Off-Duty?

- Weed Use in Free Time Not a Risk Factor for Workplace Injury 

Stephen Andrews