When it comes to employees getting injured on the job, most states require employers to carry workers compensation insurance. Typically the requirement for workers compensation is for businesses with a certain number of employees or more than the specified required number. Workers compensation policies pay for the medical costs and lost wages for employees that are injured while performing their job duties in an official work capacity. These policies pay damages regardless of who is at fault in the accident.
As workers compensation insurance relates to employees using medical marijuana for pain management, each state varies on what they will and will not allow employers to reimburse or cover. In the state of Maine, the state’s Supreme Court decided that employers were not required to cover employees medical marijuana use, relying on the Schedule 1 status of the drug and it’s illegality. In New Jersey, the issue has not made it to the state’s high court, but a lower level court has stated that employers can pay for an employee’s use of medical marijuana while receiving worker’s compensation. Due to the nature of the cannabis business, if a cannabis employee was injured on the job, a business owner would need to know if medical marijuana is a treatment option that can be paid for through workers compensation.
A judge last month ordered Freehold Township to reimburse Steven McNeary for the marijuana he uses to treat his muscular spasticity, a decision that could set precedent in New Jersey, especially as more people are now able to qualify for the medical marijuana program. Freehold Township had argued that since marijuana, even for medicinal purposes, is illegal on the federal level, the township would be breaking the law by essentially providing the marijuana for McNeary.
While this may be the first time a workers’ compensation judge has ordered a public employer to pay for medical marijuana, private employers in New Jersey have already been compelled to do so. Now that New Jersey’s medical marijuana has been expanded to include conditions such as chronic pain, more workers may be able to qualify for the program and have it paid through workers’ compensation.
The lack of consistency between states on issues like workers compensation insurance and cannabis is why cannabis business owners should be working with experienced insurance companies for their risk management needs. While employers are not required to cover medical marijuana in some states, it is important to remember the benefits of cannabis worker’s compensation insurance for cannabis employees. Employers can be exposed to a number of different risks if they do not have proper insurance coverage. In some states a business may receive a fine for each day workers compensation coverage is not maintained. Some states may prevent businesses from operating until the owner provides proof of coverage. Owners may be held personally liable for paying employees medical expenses and lost wages. Employers without proper coverage not only risk damaging financial losses for their business, but in some instances personal financial losses as well. It is absolutely critical that business owners work with an insurance company and agent that can help them navigate the various risks and threats to a business and put a plan in place to protect the owner’s investment.