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Off-the-Job Medical Marijuana Use Does Not Bar Firing

June 14, 2011
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Washington state's Medical Use of Marijuana Act does not prohibit employers from firing workers for using pot off the job, the state’s Supreme Court has ruled.

The medical marijuana law, adopted by Washington state voters in 1998, does not “provide a private cause of action for discharge of an employee who uses medical marijuana,” nor does “MUMA create a clear public policy that would support a claim for wrongful discharge in violation of such a policy,” the court ruled last week in Jane Roe vs. TeleTech Customer Care Management L.L.C.

The ruling stemmed from the case of a woman who suffered from migraines that caused chronic pain, nausea, blurred vision and sensitivity to light, according to court documents. She said conventional medications did not provide relief.

In June 2006, a doctor provided her a document authorizing marijuana possession for medical purposes, and about four months later TeleTech offered her a customer service job contingent on the results of a drug screening test.

The employer learned of her drug test results about the same time the plaintiff began training for the job and terminated her. The company’s drug-use policy does not make an exception for medical marijuana use, court records show.

She sued in 2007 under the pseudonym of Jane Roe for wrongful termination, alleging the employer violated MUMA and public policy.

But a trial court and a state appellate court granted TeleTech’s motion for summary judgment and found that MUMA provides a defense only against criminal prosecution and does not address civil actions.

On appeal to the Washington Supreme Court, the woman argued that because the medical marijuana law explicitly does not require employers to accommodate pot use “in any place of employment,” it implicitly requires accommodation for use outside the workplace.

But eight justices agreed with lower courts and found that MUMA broadly protects a personal decision to use medical marijuana, but does not address impediments to doing so, such as an employer’s drug policy.

One justice dissented, arguing that voters intended to protect such patients who prescribed marijuana for medical purposes.

Courts in other states, such as California and Oregon, also have ruled that employers do not have to accommodate medical marijuana use.  

Filed by Roberto Ceniceros of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

 

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