How Does Medical Marijuana Impact Employee Drug Testing?

A health care employee told a possible future employer that she took marijuana to take care of the consequences of a car disaster, but when her employee drug testing result came back positive, the nursing home canceled her job proposal anyhow.

A federal judge from Connecticut last month directed that the nursing home, which had called federal laws against pot use, broke anti-discrimination terms of Connecticut’s medical marijuana law.

It was the newest in a list of conflicts between U.S. and state laws around the nation that came out in support of medical marijuana users trying to obtain or maintain jobs with employee drug testing companies.

The Connecticut verdict was the first law of its kind in a central case and followed similar recent judgments against employers by state courts in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Earlier rulings had operated against marijuana users in employment lawsuits by state courts, including those in Colorado, California, Oregon, and Washington.

Advocates expect the new rulings are a sign of growing acceptance of the medicinal value of cannabis.

“This decision reflects the rapidly changing cultural and legal status of cannabis, and affirms that employers should not be able to discriminate against those who use marijuana responsibly while off the job, in compliance with the laws of their state,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, a pro-marijuana group.

A prospective employee, of Manchester, accused Bride Brook Health & Rehabilitation Center in 2016. She’d been given the job offer and she had accepted a job as a relaxation therapy director at the nursing home, contingent on her having a good employee drug testing result.

She informed the nursing home that she took marijuana pills — legitimately under state regulation and only at night — to manage the post-traumatic stress disorder she acquired after the 2012 car accident. However, the firm revoked the job offer after the employee drug test resulted positive for THC, the chemical in marijuana that makes people high.

As a governmental contractor, the nursing home thought that it might lose federal funding due to hiring someone that showed a positive test result for marijuana.

On Sept. 5, Jeffrey Meyer, U.S. District Judge in New Haven ordered Bride Brook cheated against her based only on her medical marijuana use in breach of state law. He refused her application for disciplinary losses. The case is now going into a trial on whether the prospective employee should get compensatory damages for lost wages from not getting the job.

The attorney for the nursing home declined to comment.

The employee’s lawyer stated she would not comment on the litigation. He explained she has meanwhile taken another job in the health care industry that doesn’t pay as much as the Bride Brook job.

In his judgment, the judge said the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Act, which companies including federal employers depend on policies on employee drug testing does not really need drug testing and doesn’t prohibit contractors from hiring people who use medical marijuana outside the workplace by state law.

The decision will be utilized as evidence in related cases, said Fiona Ong, an employment lawyer with the Baltimore company of Shawe Rosenthal.

“This is a very significant case that throws the issue in doubt for many of these federal contractors,” Ong said. “It’s certainly interesting and may be indicative of where the courts are going with this.”

Thirty-one states, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and Guam now support medical marijuana, while 15 others have passed low-THC-level products for medical reasons according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. About nine states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana.

Only nine states including Connecticut, however, explicitly ban employment discrimination against medical marijuana users, who could continue to face problems in obtaining or keeping jobs in the 41 other provinces, employment attorneys say.

In Massachusetts, the highest court of the state last ruled year that sales and advertising firm illegally dismissed an employee after her first day on the work after she examined positive for marijuana, which she was taken under the state’s medical marijuana regulation to manage her Crohn’s condition.

Similarly last year, in Rhode Island, the state Supreme Court declared a college student has illegally rejected an internship at a textile company where executives denied to hire her after she admitted she couldn’t pass an employee drug test because she consumed medical marijuana.

In both cases, the two women told the organizations through the hiring procedure that they used medical marijuana, but would not use it while on the job.

The American Bar Association called Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island instances “an emerging trend in employment litigation” and warned employers to consider state medical marijuana laws when assessing their medication use and testing policies.

Numerous bills are pending before Congress that would invalidate Marijuana’s classification as a regulated substance with no healing value. However, Armentano, of NORML, said it’s unlikely they will go everywhere while Republicans control Congress.

Some companies, though, have abandoned marijuana from the employee drug testings because they need employees, stating the testing bans too many potential workers in challenging hiring conditions.

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