Termination for Use of Marijuana
Can Anti-Discrimination Laws Protect An Employee From Being Terminated For Illegal Drug Use?
Eleven U.S. states, and the federal government, have laws which prohibit discrimination in employment. These laws usually prohibit discrimination on the basis of things like race, religion, sex, and disability. However, the vast majority of American jurisdictions allow an employer to fire an employee for using illegal drugs. They also usually allow employers to conduct drug tests.
Can Employees Who Use Marijuana For Medical Purposes Be Terminated?
However, some states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. This fact calls into question whether employers in those states are allowed to fire someone who uses marijuana for medical reasons.
A special focus is made to the laws prohibiting discrimination based on disability; they require employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for disabled employees to enable them to do the job. It could be argued that any condition for which the use of marijuana is indicated (glaucoma, muscle spasms, side effects of cancer treatment, etc.) constitutes a disability, and that an exception to the employer’s anti-drug policy in such cases would be a “reasonable accommodation.”
At least one state has answered this question. The California Supreme Court recently held that employers may fire employees for marijuana use, whether or not it is for medical reasons. Since marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and has a potential for abuse, requiring employers to modify their drug policies is not seen as a reasonable accommodation.
A 2012 Michigan case against Wal-Mart reached a similar conclusion. The Sixth Circuit held that medical marijuana users are not a protected class like race or religion, and that the medical marijuana laws of Michigan only applied to state and local governments, not private employers.
If All These Court Cases Support Termination of Medical Marijuana Users, Why Should Employees Pursue Their Claims In Court?
First, law is always changing. Different judges, different arguments, or even higher courts can overturn or make exceptions to existing law.
Second, most of these court decisions are limited to the state or circuit the court is in. A California court decision has no power over a New York state court. Plaintiffs outside the court’s jurisdictions can bring a similar case and reach a different outcome.
Third, many of these cases are limited to specific situations. The Sixth Circuit limited its ruling to private employers, so an employee working for a public entity could still be protected by medical marijuana laws.
It may be helpful to discuss your situation with a qualified wrongful termination lawyer.
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Last Modified: 12-20-2012 04:32 PM PST
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