HR BaseCamp RoundUp – Emergency Contacts, Smelling like Cannabis, and Corrective Actions

Am I required to notify emergency contacts if an employee has a medical issue in the office and has to go to the hospital?

The legal side of things: Unless the employee is a minor, you’re not required to notify anyone. In fact, sharing their medical information with an emergency contact could be risky. You’re required to keep employees’ medical details confidential. Unless the employee is unconscious or unresponsive, the safest thing to do is to not contact anyone about what happened unless the employee requests it. 

Now for the human approach:  We get why you might feel like notifying an emergency contact is the logical choice. After all, aren’t medical emergencies one of the reasons for having an emergency contact? 

The truth is, there’s a myriad of reasons why an employee might not want their contact notified, especially if the issue isn’t life threatening. It could be something as simple as not wanting to interrupt their workday to something serious, like not wanting their contact to know the details of their medical issues. 

In any case, communication is key. If an incident occurs, simply ask the employee if they want their contact notified. If they say no, leave it at that. 

My team has a group work trip in two weeks. One of my employees backed out at the last minute. Can I give them a corrective action?

The legal side of things: It depends on a couple of things. One is whether the event is mandatory or not. If the trip isn’t work related or your staff was told it was completely optional, a write up is risky. You’re punishing them for something they believed was completely voluntary.

Now for the human approach: We know how frustrating this can be. When the trip is this close, flights have been booked and deposits have been made, which are often non-refundable. Depending on the event, this can be a big loss for the practice. 

It also depends on the reason for canceling. If they decided they just don’t want to go anymore, you have flexibility in how you address things. You can talk to the employee about the impact this has on the business, as well as your own willingness to offer to bring them to events in the future if they are showing a lack of commitment to plans that have been made. 

If they’re canceling because of something like a medical issue, hold off on issuing any corrective action. Their reason for canceling might be protected and canceling the trip could be considered an accommodation. If this was a required work event and the reason for backing out isn’t protected, it’s okay to move forward with a corrective action. 

It’s a good idea to talk to an HR expert about this, especially if you’re unsure how the trip should be classified or there’s any protections involved. 

I’ve had several complaints about a new employee smelling like cannabis, but there haven’t been any signs pointing to her being under the influence. How should I address this?

The legal side of things: If there’s no reason to suspect that the employee is impaired at work, it’s important that you address the smell only, not the use of it. This is especially true if you’re in a state that has legalized cannabis since these laws sometimes have added protections for cannabis users.
There’s no laws directly related to odors in the workplace, so this is where your handbook comes in. Your handbook should have policies that you can reference while speaking with the employee that explain why the smell is an issue. If you’ve got a CEDR handbook, you should point to the dress code and smoke free environment sections. 

Now for the human approach: The best way to address this issue is to have a private conversation with the employee. Focus on facts, not assumptions. Again, the issue is the smell, so you don’t want to imply that you’re concerned about their use of cannabis outside of work. Your concern is the odor and how it impacts your patients and the office as a whole. 
Give the employee a chance to explain. The smell of cannabis can stick to clothing and linger for a long time. There might be an easy solution, such as the employee not changing into work clothes until they get to the office. And of course, make sure to document every conversation you have with the employee about this. 

You can find more detailed guidance and some helpful resources about this exact issue in our recent blog. We also have podcast episodes on how to handle off-duty smoking (and the resulting smoke smell), and when sending an employee for drug testing is and is not appropriate.

May 1, 2023

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance based on applicable local, state and/or federal U.S. employment law that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

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