Medical Marijuana vs Drug Free Workplace Policy

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As medical marijuana usage and treatment become more prevalent in society, individuals are frequently seeking out this alternative drug to strike a balance between pain management and living life comfortably. While it seems states are decriminalizing marijuana use one by one, positive drug tests are becoming a problem for employers with a “Drug Free Workplace Policy”. What do you do?

Far-Reaching Ramifications

This past June, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that a business can fire an employee for using medical marijuana, even if the employee is off-duty and abiding by state law. In the case at hand, Coats v. Dish Network, an employee was terminated from his job after testing positive for marijuana during a random drug test. The employee filed a law suit alleging that his rights were violated because he was fired for an act that isn’t illegal in Colorado.  The trial courts dismissed his claim and Colorado’s Supreme Court upheld the decision that the employer did not wrongly terminate the employee. Why? Because marijuana isn’t considered lawful under federal law.

How do you handle an employee who has tested positive for marijuana and how does this effect workers compensation? There is no simple answer to this question!  According to Employers Benefit News, the answer depends on the scenario and the state in which the incident happened.  In Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia – where they have decriminalized the use of marijuana-  laws have been mandated that require employers to provide accommodations and/or limit adverse action if the employee does test positive for drugs.  All other states have not (yet) enacted any law documenting an employer’s responsibility in regards to medical marijuana and their workers’ compensation benefits.

Marijuana and its Effects on Workers’ Compensation Rights

State changes in the laws and their decriminalization of marijuana has raised questions as to how this affects workers’ compensation laws. Presently, individual state laws have not made changes to how a workers’ compensation claim would be managed.  In most jurisdictions, testing positive for drugs would not necessarily allow for a denial of the injury claim if an employee is injured while in the course and scope of their employment, The employer has the option to terminate the employee, per their company policy, but the injury would still be compensable under the workers’ compensation law.

As an employer, your best plan of action is to have a firm and clear company policy in place for pre-employment, random, post-accident and follow-up drug testing and consequences. A detailed policy will ensure consistency in handling employees who test positive for drugs, whether medical or recre