Massachusetts employers prevented from terminating employees that fail drug tests because they have medical marijuana in their system and valid medical marijuana cards, are unsure of what to do next. The Massachusetts’ Supreme Court ruled that employees with medical marijuana cards could not be fired for testing positive for THC in their system during routine employer drug tests.
It certainly does not makes sense that anyone taking prescription drugs could possibly be terminated from employment simply for taking their medication. However, marijuana can have euphoric effects that can impair an employee’s ability to execute their jobs, which would certainly be a problem if they are driving a bus or working any sort of heavy machinery. Employers will have to find a way to reasonably test if employees are intoxicated on marijuana and unable to fulfill their duties, but how are they to do that?
Massachusetts companies cannot fire employees who have a prescription for medical marijuana simply because they use the drug, the state’s highest court ruled Monday, rejecting employers’ arguments that they could summarily enforce strict no-drug policies against such patients.
Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants said a California sales and marketing firm discriminated against an employee of its Massachusetts operation who uses marijuana to treat Crohn’s disease when it fired her for flunking a drug test.
In Massachusetts, Gants wrote, “the use and possession of medically prescribed marijuana by a qualifying patient is as lawful as the use and possession of any other prescribed medication.”
Therefore, he said, employers can’t use blanket anti-marijuana policies to dismiss workers whose doctors have prescribed the drug to treat their illnesses.
Instead, antidiscrimination laws require companies to attempt to negotiate a mutually acceptable arrangement with each medical marijuana patient they employ, such as exploring alternative medications or allowing use of the drug only outside of work hours.
The ruling overturned a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit against brought in 2015 by Cristina Barbuto of Brewster, who was fired by Advantage Sales and Marketing after just one day on the job because she tested positive for marijuana.
Barbuto said she told the company during interviews that she uses cannabis several nights a week — not before or during work hours — to treat her Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the digestive tract and can inhibit appetites.
She said the local hiring manager told her it would not be a problem, and that she was blindsided by her dismissal.
“I explained to them that I just used a very small amount before meals,” Barbuto said. “It wasn’t a ‘high’ feeling, it was just getting me hungry and doing what the doctor told me.”
Barbuto said she was thrilled by the ruling, and hoped it would help other patients who have been fired for using marijuana. It’s unclear how many workers have been dismissed under similar circumstances in Massachusetts.
Advantage Sales and Marketing had argued that Barbuto’s firing was justified because marijuana is illegal under federal law, and that permitting her to use it, even outside of work hours, exceeded the “reasonable accommodation” required by antidiscrimination laws.
Gants rejected that claim, writing that “the only person at risk of federal criminal prosecution for her possession of medical marijuana is the employee,” not the employer.
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