Laws concerning legal marijuana use and the workplace are in conflict in Colorado, and the end result is that employers – and employees – are baffled about how to proceed.
According to NPR, one law states that though recreational use of marijuana is legal in Colorado, employers are allowed to ban use of the drug on the premises of their business. Another law says that employers are not allowed to fire employees who engage in legal activities outside of the workday or when they are not at work.
But in a landmark Colorado case against an employer who fired an employee for testing positive for marijuana, it was ruled that employees can be fired if workplace rules say that no marijuana use is permitted and the employee tests positive even if he doesn’t get high while at work or during work hours.
Brandon Coats was fired from Dish Network when he tested positive for marijuana back in 2010. Though marijuana was not legal for recreational use in Colorado, his state of residence, at that time, he had a legal prescription for the drug. He maintains that he did not get high during the workday, nor did he ever show up to work under the influence, but as a paraplegic, he had a legitimate use for the drug medicinally during off hours.
Dish Network stood behind their policy, however, and the court ruled in their favor. Why? Because marijuana is still illegal for any purpose, including medical, according to federal law. Even though the employer operated in a state where it was legal for medicinal use, the court upheld their right to fire based on a workplace policy that was supported by federal law. The case is now in front of the Colorado Supreme Court on appeal.
Michael Evans is Coats’ lawyer. He says: “If you had a martini on Saturday night, or smoked pot on Saturday night, but you’re fine on Monday morning, how is Saturday night the employer’s business?”
What Do You Think?
Polls show that more and more Americans are supporting the legalization of marijuana, but there are large variations in how many people believe that the drug should be regulated – or if it should be at all. When it comes to the impact on an employee’s ability to work or the fact that federal law still prohibits use of the drug for any purpose despite state law, do you think that employers should be able to fire employees if their use of the drug doesn’t synch up with corporate policy? Leave us a comment and share your thoughts.