Monthly Archives: December 2019

Can I Drug Test My Texas Employees for Marijuana?

As 2020 begins, many Texas employers are wondering if they can still drug test their employees for marijuana use. Several states have legalized recreational marijuana and most states allow medical marijuana. So what is a Texas employer to do?

After all, Texas sort of, kinda, decriminalized weed in the 2019 legislative session. When they legalized hemp because it is a drought-resistant agricultural crop, the Texas Legislature effectively said that cannabis with less than 0.3 percent concentration of THC, the psychoactive ingredient that gets you high, is “legal hemp”, while anything above that threshold is illegal marijuana.

However, making the determination of THC concentrations takes sophisticated equipment that the police departments and private testing labs don’t have yet. Many Texas police departments and district attorneys have announced they are not even bothering to prosecute possession of use of small amounts of marijuana. Therefore, it is, for all practical purposes, very difficult to determine if your employees are engaged in legal or illegal activities when it comes to weed.

In addition, the Texas Legislature expanded “compassionate use” (medical marijuana) in Texas, so that specialty doctors can prescribe medical marijuana to treat multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, terminal cancer, autism, and many kinds of seizure disorders. Past state law only allowed those very few patients diagnosed with intractable epilepsy to be prescribed medical cannabis products, which in Texas may only contain low levels of THC. Now, many more of your employees may be legally prescribed medical marijuana and you have to worry about violating the Americans with Disabilities Act when testing for marijuana.

Finally, CBD oil, which is a hemp-derived product, is legal in Texas and is being sold on every street corner. Unfortunately, there is little regulation of CBD products, so they may contain surprise ingredients like THC. The Fort Worth Star Telegram recently reported on lawsuit filed by a CBD consumer against a CBD oil manufacturer because he lost his truck-driving job after testing positive for marijuana when he used CBD oil for his aching back.

So do you as a Texas employer still test for marijuana? Yes, legally you still can. Think of weed like alcohol. It is may be more legal than it was before, but it can still impair your employees’ job performance and judgment, so you are entitled to know if your employee is stoned.

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Employer End of the Year Tasks: W-4 and Salary Minimum

Employers must address two important employment law issues before the end of 2019:

  1. Changing the exempt status of employees making a salary of less than $35,568 per year, and
  2. Adoption of the new W-4 form.

I’ve previously explained the new salary minimum for exempt (salaried) employees. In summary, for you to legally pay an employee on salary, that employee must perform exempt duties (such as running a division of the company, performing professional work such as a CPA, or performing non-profitable office duties requiring independent discretion and judgment, such as human resources, benefits coordinator, safety director, marketing director, and others, but not secretarial or bookkeeping) and make at least the new salary minimum per week of $684.00.

If an employee of yours does not meet both of these criteria (exempt duties + salary minimum), you must pay that employee by the hour and pay overtime if the employee works more than 40 hours in any one workweek. In other words, you must change the employee to a non-exempt status under the Fair Labor Standards Act and make that person an hourly employee.

There are a few exceptions to this new salary minimum rule: teachers, doctors, lawyers and outside salespersons are not subject to the salary minimum test. There are also some very  industry-specific, narrow exceptions for taxi drivers, truck drivers, fisherman and some other strange exemptions from overtime that don’t have salary minimums. But the vast majority of workers paid on salary are affected by the requirements of the exemptions.

If you are having any difficulty deciding whether to change an employee to hourly or determining if their duties meet the tests for executive, administrative or professional jobs, please call your employment lawyer immediately to get you into compliance for the January 1, 2020 effective date on the salary minimum rule.

The other big change you as an employer should be aware of is the new W-4 form that the government released on December 5, 2019. It is supposed to be easier to use for your employees.

Here are the things you need to know about this new W-4 as you start the new year:

  • You must use this new W-4 form for any employee you hire beginning on January 1, 2020 and thereafter.
  • Any employee who wants to adjust his/her withholding on January 1, 2020 or after must use the new W-4 to make that adjustment.
  • Current employees do not have to fill out a new W-4 if they don’t want to make any changes, but should consider filling out a new one if they faced an unexpected penalty of bill last year or will have a change in 2020 such as marital status, a new baby or a change in income.
  • Employees filling out the new W-4 must complete steps 1 and 5 on the new form, but may complete steps 2, 3, and/or 4 if applicable. So if you have a new employee fill out the W-4 after New Year’s Day, just check that steps 1 and 5 are complete.
  • Because it is an unfamiliar form and because it encourages people to use the IRS’s new online Tax Withholding Estimator, you should allow employees to take the new W-4 form home so they can have some time to understand and complete it.