Medical Marijuana and Employment Law – What You Need to Know

Massachusetts faced its first case related to medical marijuana and employment law last year when Cristina Barbuto filed a case in September 2015 after being fired by her employer for using medical marijuana for her Crohns disease.

This was Massachusetts’ first test of its 2012 medical marijuana law in a workplace context, but it isn’t the first that has cropped up nationwide. Often the employer has prevailed against the employee because marijuana remains illegal at a federal level. Cristina Barbuto’s employer was a nation-wide company that claimed it didn’t have to accommodate her under federal law. The intersection between marijuana law and employment law is confusing territory for employers and employees to navigate, but there are concrete legal realities to bear in mind for both employers and employees.

The Changing Face of Medical Marijuana and Employment Law

So what is the status of medical marijuana when it comes to employment law right now? Here are two major things to bear in mind:

  1. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t protect workers who use medical marijuana except in Arizona, Delaware and Minnesota, where employees have to be shown to be impaired during work hours as cause to terminate. Workplace accommodation can be made, but federal courts have all held that use of medical marijuana does not qualify as reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  2. This could change if the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act of 2015 is approved. It is a comprehensive piece of legislation with wide support that changes the classification of marijuana as a schedule 1 substance.

What Employers and Employees Need to Be Aware Of

  • Employers can accommodate employees using medical marijuana even when it isn’t required by law but should be aware of their responsibilities for on-the-job safety. If an impaired employee is a safety risk they could be liable.
  • This is related to one way employees can potentially defend their medical marijuana use: namely if the urine test is understood as an invasion of their privacy that polices what they do outside work. Employees and employers should pay attention to whether their job is risky or poses a risk to the public. Medical marijuana use might be OK for a desk job but not for a job on a construction site or a job that required operating a motor vehicle.
  • Employers should be careful to be consistent about their termination policy regarding medical marijuana. If people of a particular race or gender are fired and not others, discrimination could be invoked.

Please Contact Us

The attorneys at Valanzola Law Group handle cases related to employment law. We use a tailored approach to your unique problem and focus on treating your case with discretion and care. Please contact us now for a free consultation.

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Published on November 14, 2016