New Year, New Issues

February 1, 2018

The New Year always brings with it renewed hope for the future.  In 2018, the New Year will bring Pennsylvania businesses many issues to address, old (sexual harassment) and new (medical marijuana).  Here’s my list for the three issues your business should be addressing in 2018.

  1. SEXUAL HARASSMENT. The #metoo movement shows no sign of slowing.  Whether you support the effort or you are weary of the daily barrage of stories, sexual harassment is a serious problem and can be costly for businesses.  It is not unusual to see an increase in reported incidents after intense news coverage.  Review your sexual harassment policies including reporting, investigation and retaliation provisions before an incident is reported.  Schedule training for managers and for employees to ensure that your workforce knows what behavior is inappropriate and how such behavior should be reported.  Don’t assume that employees know what sexual harassment is and how to report it.
  2. MEDICAL MARIJUANA. The first patients have received their cards, and dispensaries are set to begin providing medical marijuana to registered patients in the near future.  Now is the time to review your policies and determine if employee use of medical marijuana is consistent with your business.  For example, if you have federal contracts that require your employees to be drug tested, your employees may be prohibited from using medical marijuana.  If your employees drive as part of their job, work with high-voltage electricity or with dangerous chemicals, you will need to advise your employees about the restrictions regarding the use of medical marijuana.  Review contracts to determine drug-free workplace requirements. Review current internal drug policies and testing procedures.  Revise policies if necessary to comply with state law.  Advise employees of drug policies in light of Pennsylvania’s legalization of medical marijuana.  Don’t wait until the first positive drug test is received.
  3. BAN THE BOX. Employers in Philadelphia are already familiar with the requirement that applications not include the question, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?  Check Yes or No.”  (“Ban the Box” refers to the box for the check mark.)  Allegheny and Beaver Counties have similar restrictions for certain county positions.  Pittsburgh “banned the box” for many City positions in 2013, and it requires contractors and vendors doing business with the City to abide by the rule.  (Private employers in Pittsburgh are encouraged – but not required – to ban the box.)  Effective July 2017, Pennsylvania banned the box for certain Commonwealth non-civil service employment applications.  Employers bound by (or voluntarily following) “Ban the Box” may ask about convictions for felonies or misdemeanors later in the employment process if the information is relevant to the position for which the person is being considered.  Although not mandatory for most private employers, “Ban the Box” is gaining momentum.  Review your applications and consider deferring the criminal conviction question until you are seriously considering a candidate.  And remember, you can make a conditional offer of employment contingent upon an candidate passing an appropriate background check.

Need help with policy revisions, training or investigations?  Contact me.  I can provide custom solutions for your business.

Jean Novak is co-chair of the Employer-Employee Relations Practice Group and member of the Business Services and Public and Non-Profit Practice Groups. She can be reached at 412-281-5423 or at