Legal Pot Raises Workplace Questions
You may remember a couple of years back when a Walmart employee, once name Associate of the Year at his store in Michigan, was fired from his job after testing positive for marijuana use. What made this story different at the time was that the employee in question was using the drug as prescribed by a physician to ease pain caused by a brain tumor and sinus cancer. The law in Michigan stated that employers did not have to make accommodations for workers who take the drug for medical reasons. If the test was positive, the employer could fire the worker.
Another similar but more recent case involved a paralyzed telephone operator for Dish Network who was fired after failing a drug test. In this case, the individual also was using marijuana with a doctor’s prescription. After being fired, the man who lives in Colorado sued to get his job back arguing that he was engaged in a lawful activity and should be protected under state law. In particular, the man points to an existing law that prevents employers from firing employees who smoke cigarettes when they are off work.
Now that the states of Colorado and Washington have held votes making the use of marijuana legal for recreational purposes, the issue becomes even more complicated for employers. After all, companies do not fire employees for alcohol consumption outside of the workplace if it doesn’t affect job performance.
Employment lawyers, according to an Associated Press report, are urging companies to clearly define what their policies are and communicate the information to employees.
In the case of legal marijuana in Colorado, Kevin Caulfield, a spokesperson for Denver-based Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, told the AP, "If a drug is legal, as long as it’s not abused or misused, it would not be something covered by the policy."
- Walmart Fires Cancer Patient with Prescription for Medical Marijuana – ABC News
- Legal pot complicates drug-free work policies – The Associated Press/Arizona Daily Star
How should retailers deal with employees’ use of marijuana outside of the workplace if it is legally approved for medical or recreational use under state laws where the business is located? Should other legal prescription pain medicines be treated any differently than marijuana relative to the workplace?