Fact: 16 states and Washington, DC, have laws that allow the medical use of marijuana for patients with fatal diseases or chronic pain. What’s not as clear: How these laws impact workplace drug policies. Now, another state court has weighed in.
Of course, workplace safety is often one of the top reasons used by companies for having drug-testing and zero-tolerance policies.
Jane Roe, a resident of Washington state, suffered from debilitating migraine headaches that caused chronic pain, nausea, blurred vision and sensitivity to light. Conventional medications didn’t provide significant relief.
Roe got authorization from a doctor to possess marijuana for medical purposes. She began using pot in compliance with Washington’s Medical Use of Marijuana Act (MUMA).
The medical pot alleviated her headache pain with no side effects and allowed her to care for her children and to work.
TeleTech offered Roe a position as a customer service representative in Bremerton, WA. The offer was contingent on the results of a drug screening. TeleTech’s policy stated that failing the drug test would result in ineligibility for employment.
Roe started a training program with the company, but when the drug test came back positive for pot, TeleTech terminated her.
Roe sued the company for wrongful termination. She claimed her firing was in violation of MUMA.
The company asked the court to throw out the case. It argued MUMA doesn’t provide employment protections to medical marijuana users.
In TeleTech’s view, MUMA has a narrow purpose: to provide users and doctors with a defense against state drug laws.
The trial court granted TeleTech’s motion to throw out the case. Roe appealed to the state supreme court.
What did voters intend?
Among the arguments used by Roe’s attorney on appeal was that when voters approved MUMA, they intended to prohibit the firing of an employee for authorized use of medical marijuana.
The co-drafter and campaign manager for the measure which was approved in 1998 testified it was his intent for the measure to provide employment protections.
But the Washington Supreme Court said the language in MUMA “does not regulate the conduct of a private employer or protect an employee from being discharged because of authorized medical marijuana use.”
In fact, there’s very little said about employment in the law. It only mentions that, “Nothing in this chapter requires any accommodation of any on-site medical use of marijuana in any place of employment.”
The court’s ruling: TeleTech had the right to fire Roe.
Now that the state’s highest court has spoken, medical marijuana advocates are calling for Washington’s law to be amended to provide employment protection.
Note: Roe filed her lawsuit under a pseudonym because medical marijuana use is illegal under federal law.
What do you think about the court’s decision? Should the law be amended? Let us know what you think in the Comments Box below.
(Roe v. TeleTech Customer Care Management, Supreme Court of the State of Washington, No. 83768-6, 6/9/2011)