Court allows medical-marijuana user fired for positive drug test to sue company

The legal protections for workers who use medical marijuana continue to expand following a decision by a court in Massachusetts.

Here’s what happened: A Massachusetts woman, suffering from Chrohn’s disease, was a legal user of medical marijuana and accepted a job offer. However, the company later fired her when she failed a drug test. This week, an appellate court ruled the woman has a right to sue the former employer for disability discrimination under state law.

Here’s why the case matters: Massachusetts, like Minnesota, requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to workers with disabilities. The employer argued that allowing the worker to use medical marijuana outside of the office was not a reasonable accommodation because marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Not so, said the court, pointing out any risk of getting arrested under federal law was on the woman’s shoulders, not the company’s. So now we have a major court ruling that companies cannot simply fire a legal medical marijuana user for failing a drug test.

But wait, there’s more (at least in Minnesota): Unlike Massachusetts, Minnesota already has strong protections in place for legal medical marijuana users. For example, the state’s medical marijuana statute says an “employer may not discriminate against a person in hiring, termination, or any term or condition of employment” based on a worker’s enrollment in the medical marijuana program or positive drug test result. Therefore, assuming Minnesota courts follow the logic used by the Massachusetts court, Minnesota workers legally using medical marijuana now may have protections under both discrimination laws and the medical marijuana law.

A few caveats: Medical marijuana users still cannot use marijuana at work or show up under the influence. Also, some companies must keep drug-free workplaces in order to keep their licenses because of certain federal laws or regulations; these companies can probably make the case that allowing workers to ever use medical marijuana is not a reasonable accommodation for them.

One more thing: We’ve only mentioned state laws in this blog post. There’s also a federal anti-discrimination law, called the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), that provides almost identical protections for workers with disabilities. However, because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, don’t count on the ADA to require employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to medical marijuana users. For now, it seems state laws are the sole sources for protections.