Amazon can screen NYC job applicants for marijuana, judge says

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A worker uses an arm-mounted scanner to pack an order at Kem Krest's warehouse in Elkhart, Indiana, U.S. March 24, 2022. REUTERS/Timothy Aeppel

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  • Warehouse jobs exempt from ban on marijuana screening
  • Impaired workers could be hurt by forklifts, conveyor belts, judge says

(Reuters) - A federal judge in Brooklyn has ruled that Amazon.com Inc did not violate a New York City law by screening applicants for warehouse jobs for marijuana, saying the work would be dangerous for impaired employees.

U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan in an order on Monday dismissed a proposed class action filed last year by three applicants who were turned down for Amazon warehouse jobs after testing positive for marijuana use.

New York City law generally prohibits employers from testing job applicants for marijuana. Several other cities and states have adopted similar laws as nearly 20 states have legalized recreational marijuana over the last few years.

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But Cogan said the jobs the plaintiffs sought picking and sorting orders at a Staten Island warehouse involved dealing with heavy machinery such as conveyor belts and forklifts, and qualified for an exemption to the city's law.

"It isn't hard to imagine an impaired employee ambling in front of a heavy moving object or carelessly allowing a clothing item to get caught in a conveyor belt," Cogan wrote.

Seattle-based Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor the plaintiffs' lawyers at Lipsky Lowe.

The city law exempts certain jobs, including those that involve the use of heavy machinery or for which impairment "would pose an immediate risk of death or serious physical harm."

The plaintiffs maintained that both of those exemptions were meant to apply narrowly to dangerous work in construction, manufacturing and similar industries, and not to merely lifting boxes and loading them onto conveyor belts.

Cogan disagreed, saying federal workplace safety regulations have identified various hazards associated with conveyor belts that Amazon workers are exposed to on a daily basis.

Workers at the Staten Island warehouse voted last month to form the first union of Amazon warehouse employees. The company has moved to overturn the results, claiming pro-union workers suppressed turnout and the National Labor Relations Board mismanaged the election.

The case is Thomas v. Amazon.com Inc, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, No. 1:21-cv-01325.

For Thomas: Douglas Lipsky of Lipsky Lowe

For Amazon: Not available

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Amazon illegally tests NYC job applicants for marijuana - lawsuit

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.